|CERES No. 068 (Vol. 12, No. 2) March-April 1979. The Case for National Planning for Disasters (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations)|
Factional interests still thwart reform, and some modernization has overlooked the genuine needs of the peasantry.
Algeria's immense leap forward in barely two decades, and the tremendous social changes achieved especially in rural areas, quite rightly arouse admiration in the Third World. The most remote villages already have electricity; bottled cooking gas has become a part of rural community life, saving the woman the labour of wood gathering, and helping to preserve the forests and prevent desertification. The fields are worked by Algerian-made Cirta tractors and almost one third of national requirements in lorries is met by Rouiba's production. Living standards have risen enormously and school attendance in the 6- to 14-year-old age group is as high as 70 percent. Workers in Algerian industry now exceed those who have emigrated to France, and the newspapers are full of employment offers for skilled labourers. Traditional Algeria is disappearing quickly; a new country is springing up.
However, the break with traditional lifestyles poses new and acute problems. Central to these is the al thawra ziraya, the agrarian revolution launched on 8 November 1971 to modernize the country. How can jobs be created for the growing number of school-leavers entering the labour market every year? How can the rural exodus (which no longer has an escape valve in emigration to France) be prevented? How can growing dependence on the world market for food imports, and the trend toward a drop in agricultural exports, be reversed? The reply to these questions is vital, and the Algerian Government and people are aware that the rural sector is of primary importance not only to the future of one of the most costly revolutions of our time in terms of human life and property, but also to the economic independence of Algeria, which paid so dearly for its political independence.
The late President Houari Boumenne, father of the agrarian revolution, declared dramatically in his speech of 21 January 1972: "Either it will be successful ... or it will fail, and then we shall find ourselves with a new bourgeoisie which may well be even viler and harsher than the colonial bourgeoisie that exploited us in the past." Indeed, within the agrarian revolution, which affects the majority of Algerian people as well as the fundamental relationship between industry and the rural sector, a socioeconomic battle is being waged that will decide if the inevitable modernization of the country will be carried out in the traditional capitalist way, developing new social inequalities at the expense of the peasant, or whether, on the contrary, it will be effected in accordance with an egalitarian development model that could have enormous influence throughout the Third World.
But what, exactly, is Algeria's agrarian revolution? Why is it called a "revolution" instead of a "reform"? It is easier to answer the latter question, which also covers the first. The al thawra ziraya is a revolution because it is not merely proposing to change economic and power structures, or the productive organization of the country, but rather, according to the Charter of the Agrarian Revolution, it is "permanent" (although divided into stages), going "well beyond a simple concern for social justice, it signifies the radical transformation of living and working conditions in the rural world."
The agrarian revolution is in three phases. The first, which began in March 1972 and ended in January 1973, was successful and met with scarcely any resistance, since only state and communal land and the few remaining habous (religious) properties were distributed. This phase was preceded by a census of all arable land, which covered 3 million ha (some 800 thousand ha of land ready for use, and some 2.2 million more to be cleared). The land ready for use was distributed among some 54 000 beneficiaries, providing a living for about 350 000 people. However, since the land was not very fertile, and because of the higher wages in industry and building, and the difficulty in setting up cooperatives, by 1 July 1974 8 percent of the beneficiaries in this first phase, and up to 40 percent in the wilaya (administrative division equivalent to a region or state) of Algiers, had renounced their land.
The second phase was also preceded by a census. On 15 September 1972, the students in the regional schools of engineering were entrusted with the delicate task of taking a census of the landowners. The phase started on 17 June 1973 and its objective was and is the dispossession of the big estate owners and the distribution of their land, in the form of production cooperatives, to the poor peasants. Only absentee landowners and those with holdings above the prescribed limit were dispossessed.
This second phase, originally to have ended on 31 December 1974, was extended. Last November, the Minister of Agriculture, Tayeb Larbi, announced that the distribution of these lands would be completed "shortly" At that point, 573 000 ha had been nationalized, representing only 44 percent of the private land which would be rationalizable if the law were applied to all 50 092 absentee or limitable landowners listed. In this way, if all goes well, some 2.5 million ha, including the land recovered in the first phase, could be nationalized.
A heavy blow
Under present conditions of cultivation and productivity, 10 ha are the average minimum area sufficient to support a family of Algerian peasants. To give this minimum quantity to Algeria's landless peasants' some 5 million ha would be needed, and another 3 million so that other peasants with very little land could achieve this size of holding. Thus, unless a significant increase in agricultural productivity is achieved reducing the amount of land needed per caput, the total available land could satisfy only half the landless peasants.
The third phase of the revolution, launched on 8 November 1975, affects private, state and communal pastureland, and also the flocks, and seeks to encourage the settlement of the nomads. Although animal-breeding cooperatives have been set up in several parts of the country, this phase is still in its initial stages and progresses slowly, since it affects powerful interests, particularly in the meat market.
The fourth phase, forestry exploitation, and the fifth, water, are in preparation.
To sum up, at the end of 1977 almost 1.3 million ha of arable land had been distributed among some 100 000 beneficiaries in 6 604 production units, 70 percent of which were CAPRAs (Agricultural Production Cooperatives of the Agrarian Revolution). The agrarian revolution has covered about 8 percent of the active agricultural population and one sixth of the arable land.
Compensation payments, far from encouraging the landowners to turn to industry? were considered a heavy blow for them, which explains their efforts to sabotage the agrarian revolution. Compensation is fixed according to the land tax paid and is made in nominal Treasury bonds, amortizable in 15 years, at 2.5 percent, which recently began to be repaid, at two years from the date of issue. Moreover, there will be no compensation for land acquired during the war of national liberation (1954-62) when an Algerian agrarian elite was formed, taking over much of the land abandoned by the peasants who had been compulsorily regrouped or obliged by the colonial troops to emigrate, as well as that left behind by French colonists who fled the country. There is little evidence, however, that this elite has any support from the Algerian Government, as some foreign critics have claimed.
Among other social measures of the agrarian revolution are the provision of free medicine for rural workers, improved education, the extension of urban workers' social benefits to the rural areas, the elimination of taxes and the doubling of the guaranteed minimum agricultural wage. All this has raised the living standards of country-dwellers, thus helping to contain the rural exodus.
Shut in by four modern walls
But most important of all is the decision to build 1 000 "socialist villages" before 1980. Each of these villages will house 100 to 600 families; the average will be about 200. While it is true that 200 000 families, or 1.5 million people, are barely one fifth of Algeria's rural population, it is much more important (without forgetting the consequences of the creation of a peasant 'aristocracy" of the well-lodged) that 20 percent of the Algerian rural population will finally escape from the wretched gourbis, crowded, poor and dirty, to live in homes that will have water, gas and electricity, in centres with basic social and cultural services, bringing their way of life nearer to that of city-dwellers.
Unfortunately, by November 1978, only 190 of these villages had been constructed. What is worse, many have been built without taking account of rural reality. In many cases, for example, the architects wanted to encourage a break with traditional clan and family relationships and thought in terms of a European-type family, consisting of one couple and their children. Houses and rooms were designed with this concept of privacy and on the supposition that the income from the man's work in the cooperative would be enough to support the home. However, the cooperative is not always productive. Without the old family kitchen-garden or the raising of poultry and small animals (tasks and property of the woman, no longer possible for lack of space), income falls in many cases, and the productive and social position of the woman worsens.
The extended family often takes charge of the home, so that one of two things happens: either the husband lives in the new house and all his family stays in the old gourbis (which have not been burned down, as they were supposed to have been, since they can still be used), or the house fills up with cousins, uncles, parents and grandparents, the rooms are divided and subdivided with partitions, the lavatories are insufficient, and privacy disappears once more. To prevent or eliminate such situations, the State often finds itself ranged against the occupants of the new home.
These villages make no allowance for the fusion of agricultural activities with the development of other services not included in the plan such as petrol stations, dispensaries or local industries and crafts. Often the plots of land allocated are too far away from each other and transport is inadequate. The village becomes a dormitory prompting the young to think about emigration to the nearest town.
Behind these villages is the idea of modernization of social life, a break with former family traditions. People of different tribes, origins and social levels find themselves neighbours. The woman, who could formerly be seen without her veil within the extended family, and who could converse with other women while fetching water or wood and doing the washing, now finds herself surrounded by strangers: with water and fuel, but shut in by four modern walls. Progress in her material living conditions is achieved at the expense of retrogression in her social life, at a time when her participation could be decisive in socioeconomic progress.
About 7 000 cooperatives including 6 275 production units and more than 600 servicing units have been created. Together with the self-managing sector (see Table 2), these constitute the socialist sector that was set up immediately after independence through occupation of lands abandoned by the colonists. This was done initially to guarantee use of the land but without altering the type of system of production. From 1963 onward, nationalization of the colonists' property was extended and these lands came under the direct control of the Ministry of Agriculture and Agrarian Revolution (MARA).
The crux of the matter
The cooperatives, however, are freer and more democratic in their management and try to avoid the operational methods that drastically lowered the productivity of the so-called self-managing sector. Each cooperative (CAPRA) is directed by a general assembly composed of all members, each of whom has a vote. This assembly meets every three months and elects a management committee, which meets every five days. This committee, in turn, elects a president of the cooperative. Members of the CAPRA executive must undertake their duties free of charge and arc also required to work physically in the cooperative venture. Polyvalent Communal Agricultural Servicing Cooperatives (CAPCs) have been set up to market the produce, which they are obliged to accept from the CAPRAs. They have the same type of management as the latter, but with the addition of a technical consultant appointed by MARA. These CAPCs market the produce at wilaya level through COFEL (Fruit and Vegetable Marketing Cooperative); at the international level the produce is sold by OFLA (Fruit and Vegetable Office of Algeria).
The CAPCs try to eliminate middlemen and black marketeers by building supermarkets and opening sales points that offer lower prices. However, these efforts often encounter, on the one hand, obstruction from the people affected by their establishment and, on the other, the bureaucratization of their own operations. The two things are often interlinked especially where clan relationships encourage a close alliance between government officials, who can shackle the functioning of the cooperative, and the middlemen, who are openly struggling against them for their own survival. Although bureaucratization often results from inactivity on the part of management councils, and with the virtual absorption of the latter by the MARA consultant, in many other cases it is deliberately engineered by the big landowners who have become cooperative members and control local political life.
Prices are fixed every five days at wilaya level by a commission composed of organs of the State and the masses, the CAPCs, COFEL, OFLA and the private traders of the wilaya. Excluded, however, are the beneficiaries of the agrarian revolution and the smallholders.
This brings us to the crux of the matter. The struggle for independence united many different interests. The entire population rose against the French colonists: plantation workers and marginalized native peasants; the big local landowners who coveted the estates of the French; those who hoped to fill the posts the latter held in the state and economic life; the revolutionaries who wanted a fundamental social change and those who only desired reforms. The banner of nationalism covered the whole of this heterogeneous front. Now, when agrarian reform affects national interests, traders and middlemen in agriculture and owners of large tracts and flocks defend themselves by bringing their personal, family and clan relationships into play at all levels: organs of the masses, the State and the party. Within these bodies a biker fight has broken out, and it is still far from being over. It should not be forgotten that the launching of the agrarian revolution was only possible after the sacking of Kaid Ahmed, ax-Minister of Finance, Secretary of the Government Party from 1967 to 1972, member of the Revolutionary Council (and at the same time a big landowner).
The People's Communal Assembly has been enlarged to form APCE (Enlarged People's Communal' Assembly). This decides how decrees and laws on the agrarian revolution shall be applied at community level. To safeguard the interests of the small peasants, APCE is made up of local kasma representatives of the official National Liberation Front (FLN), by the heads of the ex-moudjahiddine association and of the Central Algerian Trade Union (UGTA), the National Union of Women (UNFA), JFLN (FLN Youth) and representatives of the National Union of Peasants (UNPA), two thirds of whom must be landless peasants, agricultural wage-earners or khamm(tenant farmers who work for the owner in exchange for one fifth of production). The problem is that this clause is seldom honoured, insofar as the representatives of UNPA hardly ever amount to half APCE, as laid down by law. The local UNPA leader must be a party member. This explains how and why many APCEs permit landowners to avoid the application of the agrarian revolution, of which, in theory, APCEs should be the instruments, or else to nullify expropriation measures and sabotage CAPCs and COFEL.
Dissolving the rural milieu
Far from idyllic national unity, there is a bitter fight among the various classes of modern Algerian society. This struggle has been aggravated by the country's development and, since it cannot be expressed openly, takes the form of in-fighting within the official organs, the organization of parallel markets, or artificial scarcities in the field of marketing.
This is why the Algerian Government's campaign for the reorganization of all the bodies of the masses (UNCTA, UNPA, UNFA, UNEA, etc.), which will culminate with the FLN Congress, is so important. The fate of the economic organs of the agrarian revolution and even the state organs depends to a great extent on what will be the destiny of these popular bodies, which both constitute and control them. Equally decisive is the continued mobilization of students working together with the peasants to implement and control the agrarian revolution.
There are other important problems. The first is the dissolution of the Algerian rural milieu. Even before independence, colonization had ruined the countryside and exhausted the land. The war led to the irreversible displacement of 4 million people, hundreds of thousands of deaths and enormous material damage. By the time of independence, the peasant population was already emigrating en masse. Income from non-agricultural sources, including cheques from Algerians who have emigrated to work in Europe, increasingly fuels the life of whole regions. On the other hand, the urban attractions, education and higher industrial wages draw the young and the technicians away from the countryside and partially annul the Government's considerable endeavours in the field of professional agricultural training. Without the remittances of the emigrant workers and the traditional family structures that attenuate the effects of underemployment, the rural exodus would be immense and the cities bursting. There is the risk that agriculture could become, for many, merely a means of reproducing the labour force, with resulting lower wages and depressed domestic markets.
As the renunciations of the land allocations have demonstrated, the typical beneficiaries of the agrarian revolution tend to be elderly peasants who cannot find better jobs. The low productivity of the CAPRAs encourages the very subsistence production that it was intended to reduce and creates a dependence on state monetary aid, which is a form of wages.
Cultivation plans and techniques, moreover, are fixed by the state organs, which also make decisions affecting other problems of life, as in the case of the socialist villages. The peasants understand and accept many measures, but they do not see the agrarian revolution as their project and do not make any effort for it. This fact raises the costs enormously and increases waste in the utilization of capital, material, fertilizers and seeds, as well as encouraging the bureaucratization of the various organs and the State. In effect, as the Charter of the Agrarian Revolution says, "a revolution is not granted" without grave risks.
Ultimately, it is vital for Algeria to increase agrarian productivity. The competitiveness of its industrial production depends on the low cost of wages, made possible by subsidized prices for basic foods. The country cannot import more and more food without damaging its industrial apparatus, or abandoning some part of its plans for importation of machinery, above all when its income is dropping with the devaluation of the dollar and its hydrocarbon sales. It cannot continue importing increasing amounts of agricultural products for its transformation industries (sugar and wool) nor, in present social conditions, can it sell the small peasants its industrial products for use in the fields. Hence the necessity of encouraging cooperatives and eliminating agrarian rents through modernization of the country. But low agricultural productivity and the lack of any real participation by the masses make it difficult to capitalize the countryside and eliminate taxes and rental payments.
Not yet clearly resolved
Capitalist modernization in other agrarian countries, like those of Western Europe, ruined the peasantry. However, it does not necessarily follow that all modernization of the countryside, or elimination of the old traditional world, will have the same effect. Planning could include irrigation, reforestation, preparation of the land and the development of new lands which, in the long term, will raise productivity. However, such projects have not been attempted so far because they offer insufficient return on capital. What road should be followed? Should agriculture become the Cinderella of the national economy, obliged to pay for the "primary industrial accumulation" to which the bulk of investment is devoted? Or should industry be placed at the service of a general transformation? This question is not yet clearly resolved in the Algerian case. Although in the second four-year plan, investments in agriculture represent (12 005 million DA) only 10.9 percent of total investment, as against the 48 000 million DA, or 43.6 percent of investment in the case of industry, almost 28 percent of the budget for 1978 was devoted, if one includes hydraulic works, special programmes and the building of socialist villages, to the agricultural sector. Yet, since the basic problem seems to lie in who is doing the planning, how, and for whom, an eventual solution must depend upon the active participation of the Algerian peasantry.