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close this bookAfrican Agriculture: The Critical Choices (United Nations University)
close this folder11. Agricultural development without delinking: Lessons to be drawn
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentThe nature of the problem
View the documentAlgeria
View the documentTanzania
View the documentExperiences of Algeria and Tanzania: Lessons to be drawn


Algeria inherited an agriculture that was dualist in its objectives: first, to produce wine and wheat for export; and second, to produce foodstuffs for the majority of the population. It was also dualist at the technical level: alongside a sector with modern techniques producing for export, was another with archaic techniques producing for the people's subsistence. There was dependence at all levels, and the majority of the rapidly growing rural population lived in abject poverty. But these people had fought doggedly for independence and demanded development, meaning, relieving poverty. According to the FLN's (National Liberation Front) doctrine developed during the national liberation war decolonizing agriculture would contribute to the achievement of this objective. Its principal purpose would be to assure the reproduction of a growing labour force, through a much higher rate of growth of food crops than the rate of population growth. Next, it would be integrated into an upstream "industrial complex in order to avoid technological dependence. These objectives appeared to be realistic. The country is well endowed with natural resources to supply steel and engineering, as well as agro-chemical industries, with raw materials. Finally, intensification of production techniques and an appropriate redistribution of land and income would maintain a rate of rural out-migration compatible with the rate of economic, particularly industrial, growth and hence with the rate of job creation in those sectors. What is the balance-sheet?

When Algeria became independent, its agriculture was serving the French economy. The revolutionary character of the liberation struggle and the determination to industrialize rapidly led it to carry out a swift process of reallocating productive forces to sub-sectors producing for the domestic market. Colonization had specialized the country in the export of wines, produced on the best lands with the most skilled agricultural manpower and the most advanced management techniques.

The most spectacular reallocation affected the vineyards whose area fell from 500,000 hectares in 1962 to 233.000 hectares in 1975-76, a reduction of 53.4%. This reorientation, one of the most radical in the history of agricultural decolonization, is doubtless to be explained less by a Muslim country's aversion to wine, or the desire to reduce dependence, than by the difficulties of finding outlets (Bedrani) and, above all, the possibility of replacing export receipts from agricultural commodities in general by oil receipts. Thus between 1972 and 1977, the food, beverages and tobacco head fell in volume from 900.000 to 580.000 metric tons and in current value from 664 million dinars to 550.2 In 1970, agricultural commodities contributed 20.5% and hydrocarbons 70.5% of export receipts, in 1978 the percentages were 2.45% and 96% respectively.3

Clearly, a drastic reduction in wine's place in the economy and exports was necessary; but why it was replaced by oil, is not clear.

For Algerian planners, the reallocation of productive forces was not to be done at the expense of the growth of production. But, during the 1970s, there was no upward trend of production- quite the reverse. Thus, on the base 1974-76= 100, the production index was 97 in 1982, after being 109 in 1980 and 102 in 1981. The per capita index went from 93 in 1978 to 80 in 1981 and 88 in 1982. The indices of foodstuff production moved even more negatively, the index for 1982 being 77.4

Nevertheless, physical accumulation, notably through mechanization was considerable. Between 1970 and 1978, the quantity of agricultural machinery increased considerably. Over these eight years, the quantity of tractors and harvesting, ploughing and transport equipment increased by 3.17, 2.76. 2.18 and 3.85 times respectively. In 1979-81, with 43.000 tractors. Algeria was the leading mechanized country in Africa (after South Africa) and well ahead of Tunisia (34,000) and Egypt (25.000).5

This divergent evolution between growing fixed agricultural capital accumulation and stagnation of production is not unconnected with a process of nationalization unaccompanied by any increase in the social and perhaps also technical capacity to ensure effective planning. At the time of independence, the French settlers owned over two million hectares of agricultural land in the country; 95% of their holdings averaged over 100 hectares. These lands were confiscated by the people and formed the socialist sector. In the early 1970s the Agrarian Revolution (the official expression) made it possible to take 400,000 hectares from Algerian private ownership. S. Bedrani6 shows convincingly that the workers in the self-managed sector, also called the socialist sector, as well as the 'agrarian revolution' sector, are really state employees, the allocation of the product and the means of production being carried out by the state and not by the workers. In other words, the vast agricultural sector owned by the state is dependent upon the state for the means of production. But, its demand for mechanized equipment is greater than the private sector's; in 1978, for example, the figures for the state sector were: tractors. 32.443: equipment for: harvesting. 29.594: for transport. 19.056, for other purposes. 22.997. Those for the private sector were: 10.053:54:20.135: 10.103: and 15, respectively.7

Since the USSR's experiences in the 1970s, the coexistence of a large quantity of agricultural machinery and low productivity on nationalized lands has been a common phenomenon in the agricultural history of the world: an experience shared by Algeria too.

The option in favour of intensification was, however, unavoidable in a country where each year erosion is responsible for a considerable loss of top soil, a 3% per annum population growth rate in 1960. (among the highest in the world) and where no model of industrialization makes it possible to foresee the rapid ending of unemployment. But neither was the objective of intensifying production reached. Between 1967 and 1977, cereal crops yields (which account for 30% of the weighting in the agricultural production index) fluctuated around six quintals per hectare, as in 1955. No sustained upward trend of yields of pulses emerged in the early 1980s; they were rather diminishing. It is only in the case of so-called industrial crops that, despite fluctuations, yields have increased considerably, rising from 38.8 quintals per hectare in 1967 to 86.5 in 1977.

These meagre results in the evolution of yields partly explain the instability of the demand for fertilizers and pesticides. In a country which has chosen the Western rather than the Chinese model of accumulation in agriculture, the consumption of commercial fertilizers is an important indicator of their effects on yields. But in Algeria, per capita consumption was unstable during the 1970s, with a very marked downward trend for phosphate and nitrogenous fertilizers. For the years 1972-74 the consumption, in metric tons per inhabitant was: Nitrogenous fertilizers. 7.82, phosphates. 6.75: potash, 5.53; and insecticides. 0.23. For the years 1979-81, consumption was: 8.10; 5.53: 3.01; and 0.25, respectively.8 It is also a feature of nationalized agriculture to consume agricultural equipment more easily than the components that combine to increase greater intensity of labour time (not to be confused with greater intensity of labour).

The failure of intensification led to the failure of employment. By 1977, the employed rural population represented only 53.5% of the total employed population, whereas in 1966 58.23% of male employment was in agriculture, a percentage that fell to 31% in 1977. In the rural areas, agricultural activity occupied only 50% of the population. Rural processing industry was still embryonic since it employed only 7% of this population as against 16% in construction and public works and 10% in administration and services. That is better than in many African countries. Nevertheless, here is an agriculture whose quest for accelerated growth through mechanization has led to a very rapid reduction in the rural agricultural population, but the growth of industrial employment has been insufficient to absorb all the working age population. Emigration remains one solution to the problem found by the ruling elite. According to the 1955 French census, the tote] economically active Algerian population in France was 308.575, representing 13% of the employed population in Algeria, this latter being estimated at 2.336,972 in 1977.9

The government also applied an incomes and prices policy, quite favourable to agriculture so as to limit the drift from the rural areas. Trade terms, unfavourable to agriculture before 1974, subsequently became favourable. Compared to 1969 = 100, the wearing apparel and footwear price indices (168.2) were decidedly lower than those of agricultural commodities, including the cereals (189.2). After 1974, the daily or monthly wage indices (134) for unskilled administration workers rose less rapidly than that of agricultural products (213.4).10 This incomes and prices policy failed to counter the effects of the rapid mechanization of agriculture and even faster industrialization.

One essential condition for controlling accumulation lies in achieving self-sufficiency and reducing the proportion of food imports and, particularly, by multiplying links upstream with engineering, agro-chemical and agro-biological industries.

On neither aspect is the balance-sheet satisfactory:

1. The rate of cover of food consumption by national production has continued to worsen.

2. The quality and quantity of statistical information provided by the Ministry of Planning and Regional Development are remarkable. Using those contained in the table of inter-industrial exchanges in 1974, it is possible to see the degree of agriculture's integration in industry in the mid-1970s. The year 1974, however, was exceptionally favourable to raw material prices. The effect of the quadrupling of the oil price suddenly overwhelmed the importance of other products in the national economy. Nevertheless' the orders of magnitude are respected.

We shall distinguish self-provisioning by the agricultural sector, intermediate industrial consumption and machinery, and finally the linkages with the foodstuff and other industries. Table 11.1 enables us to make the following observations. In value, agricultural self-provisioning is far ahead (41%), followed by the chemical industries 20% and engineering industries (11%). The modest share of hydrocarbons and water (8%) is largely explained by the fact that these products are delivered to agriculture at subsidized rates.

Table 11.1

Agricultural inputs by type (1974)

Values (million AD)





Hydrocarbons and water



Chemical industries (fertilizers)



Transport and services supplied to enterprises



Food and agricultural industries



Steel, engineering and electrical industries






Source: Algeria, Minist du Planification, Annuaire Statistique de l'Alge 1977-78.

What is the rate of self-sufficiency upstream? In 1974. Algeria imported some 2,181 million dinars of agricultural machinery and equipment, or 24% of the value of steel and engineering products imported, and over 16 times the value of amortization of the agricultural machinery used the same year. In short, the upstream linkages from agriculture to industry were stronger with foreign agro-industrial complexes than with Algerian industry: and that was the case despite steel industry growth rates of 17% between 1963 and 1973 and 8% between 1973 and 1981. While it did not result in financial dependence, because of the large volume of petroleum rent, it still remains the case that they involved a heavy technological dependence.

Table 11.2

Fertilizer production as % of consumption, 1972-74 and 1979-81



Ivory Coast




26 8





48 5



































Source: UN I DO. Handbook of Industrial Statistics, 1984 (adapted).

The objective of circulating constant capital was rapidly to raise the level of self-sufficiency, through the manufacture of chemical fertilizers from the plentiful raw materials available within Algeria. Table 11.2 clearly shows that the objective of improving the level of fertilizer self-sufficiency receded whereas in the Ivory Coast it improved. But self-sufficiency must not be confused with an adequate level, and rate of self-sufficiency and 'rate of control' of accumulation The self-sufficiency rate seems higher in the Ivory Coast, but it must not be forgotten that production there is directly under the control of multinational companies and that, compared to Algeria, the level of use per capita is also lower. Nevertheless, it is clear that Algeria is far from being self-sufficient in fertilizers.

In the last analysis, then, the decolonization of Algerian agriculture has failed either to achieve high growth rates to deal in the short-term at least with population growth, urbanization and rising incomes, nor to make any appreciable move towards controlling accumulation. We have suggested that the nationalization of agriculture without effective planning has a major share of responsibility for this situation. Another factor that may be even more important is the existence of oil rent, a source of wealth not arising from labour Without it, the ruling class fraction and the state would, in order to satisfy popular aspirations born of the national liberation struggle, have been obliged to adopt a more autonomous path of accumulation and a more labour-intensive strategy, or failing that, give way to other fractions which might do so. This approach would have consisted, first, in aiming at full employment, including employment of women, and simultaneously financing imports principally by exporting products produced by national labour. The importance of this last point will be considered later.