|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)|
by Samuel Kassapu
Conceived in societies where individualism is of the essence, many modern methods do not fit communal forms of production.
To understand the way research in Africa is organized, one must go back to the origins of Western penetration into this part of the world.
The geography of scientific research in Africa follows the lines of the partition of the continent into different blocs. The Industrial Revolution in the 18th century increased the potential of the Western European countries for conquest and domination. Once the revolution was under way, these countries became aware of the lack of raw materials to feed their budding industries. They also needed to find bigger markets. England, France, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Holland, Belgium, etc. found in Africa, as elsewhere, what they needed for their own expansion.
The "Colonial Pact," fruit of the Berlin Conference of 1884/85 on the partition of Africa, turned this continent into a vast reservoir of raw materials for Europe. In return, the metropolitan countries supplied Africa with industrial manufactures, but retained the monopoly of this supply. The beginning of the 20th century saw the inception of research centres specially conceived to meet the needs of these industries. Whether established in the metropolitan country as in the case of the French colonial system, or in the overseas periphery as in the case of the British and Belgian empires, these centres were generally required to carry out research on behalf of the colonial powers that would reap the profits.
After the Second World War, France, in the interests of national reconstruction, established a number of research organizations, oriented mainly toward agricultural science, zoology and technology. As before, these bodies were located in metropolitan France, although the research, which soon yielded interesting results, was concerned with the development of large-scale cash-crop farming: groundnuts, cocoa, coffee, cotton-problems with which European agriculture was unfamiliar. At the same time there was a parallel advance in geological and mining research; study of the human sciences also made great strides.
At this juncture, it was decided to set up a body responsible for the reorientation and coordination of scientific research in the colonies. As early as 1943, the Colonial Office for Scientific Research was created, later to become the Office of Overseas Scientific and Technical Research (ORSTOM). In addition, eight specialized institutes for research on tropical agriculture were set up.
Since 1970, these institutes have been incorporated in the Group for Study and Research on the Development of Tropical Agriculture (GERDAT), based in Paris. Except in a few rare instances where previous cooperative agreements are being revised, these bodies maintain the monopoly on research activities in the former colonies and play an active role in the general and special agreements on scientific cooperation between France and its African partners. The aftermath of France's integration policy thus continues to be felt.
In the case of the United Kingdom, overseas agricultural research dates back to the establishment of the Imperial Department in 1898. After the First World War, the Colonial Research Committee came into existence to launch a whole series of research organizations in the colonies. In 1959, this Committee was replaced by the Overseas Research Council, a consultant body whose range of activities extended even to overseas countries outside the Commonwealth. This was superseded in 1963 by the Department of Technical Cooperation, in its turn replaced by the Ministry of Overseas Development and, latterly, by the Overseas Development Administration, the Ministry responsible for UK foreign assistance.
Not all this research, however, is carried out overseas. A good number of the research foundations, particularly those geared to industrial research, have their headquarters in the UK. However, the paternalistic policy of British colonialism was to prove, in the final analysis, to the advantage of the African countries, because Africanization later took place much more quickly in the ex-British colonies than in French-speaking Africa.
Toward export crops
Prior to 1960, agricultural research in the Belgian colonies was the responsibility of the National Institute for Agronomic Studies in Central Africa (INEAC), whose field of operations included the Congo, Rwanda and Burundi. It employed about 400 researchers, mostly at university level.
When the Congo became independent in 1960, Belgium simply and with no more ado recalled its cadres. The numbers of researchers plummeted from 400 to 30. At the time the Congo had only five university graduates, so that filling the places vacated by the Belgians was hardly a possibility. After independence. INEAC split up and became the National Institute for Agronomic Studies and Research (INERA) in Zaire, the Burundi Institute of Agricultural Science (ISABU) and the Rwanda Institute of Agricultural Science (ISAR).
Belgian colonial research policy was half-way between the British and French systems with exclusively expatriate researchers, no training policy for African cadres, and research organizations based in the colonies-although all programme orientation and formulation were carried out in the metropolis.
All the structures set up by the West guided research exclusively toward export crops, to the detriment of food crops for local consumption. Colonial policy in this respect, as in so many others, has had disastrous effects that have carried over into the so-called post-colonial period. Firstly, economic dependence has been perpetuated and even enhanced. The best illustration of this is in the import statistics for African countries which show that primarily agricultural countries import up to 30 percent or more of their food.
Then there is also the impoverishment of the African masses through the introduction of technology cost increases and low output. Cooperative agreements are so structured that the developing countries find themselves paying for research from which they derive little or no benefit. An OECD Development Centre study on agricultural research costs shows that, in 1973 alone, 34 countries in tropical Africa spent a total of between $129 million and $135 million to improve the quantity and quality of agricultural products that they sell for low prices on the international market.
One must face the facts: until African countries do some radical rethinking of agricultural research policy, they have little chance of seeing any real change that will get them out of their economic doldrums.
The agricultural research situation in the Sahelian countries merits especially close examination not only because of their acute food problems, but also on account of the controversy surrounding this research. Until 1973, scientific research in these ex-colonies of France continued to fall under the French research institutes for tropical agriculture. A detailed examination of the different branches of these activities shows that forestry expenditure, for example, is mostly on: the study of the soil/eucalyptus balance; pilot schemes for the introduction of new fast-growing species; introduction of cover crops to control erosion; and some experimental reforestation.
Of the total of $1.7 million spent by the CTFF in 1973 for all the ex-French colonies of tropical Africa, only $300 000, or barely 18 percent, went to the Sahelian zone. This state of affairs contrasts sharply with what was written in such great quantities on the desertification of Africa's tropical dry-lands during the recent Sahelian drought.
In the field of animal health protection, there are three areas of research: diseases such as rinderpest, bovine pleuropneumonia, foot-and-mouth disease that constitute a barrier to trade; diseases like trypanosomiasis, theileriosis, streptothricosis and helminthiasis that constitute a breeding hazard; and lastly nutritional and deficiency diseases.
Animal breeding occupies an extremely important place in the development of the Sahel. Research on animal breeding and veterinary medicine, representing 1.7 percent by volume and 33 percent in financial terms of total research, would seem to be reasonably adequate. However, the results in terms of animal production are disappointing. The reason, I suggest, is that veterinary research has never paid serious attention to the traditional techniques of the nomadic herders, which are usually considered primitive compared with the methods of sedentary agriculture.
Fruit crop research in the Sahel covers pineapples, bananas, mangoes, citrus, guavas, avocado pears, dates, etc. It is especially important in Mauritania. An analysis of the research projects shows that crop protection, plant selection and grafting are the main activities undertaken for the improvement of fruit farming. Input of modern technology is less than for other crops.
Fruit crop research offers good prospects for industrialization, especially in the food industry (canning, jams and fruit drinks), the pharmaceutical industry (extraction of avocado oil which is used in the treatment of certain skin diseases), and in the manufacture of cosmetics.
Food crops research is focused on study and fertilization of the soil, crop protection and plant adaptation. Crops under study include maize, millet, groundnuts rice and ni as a secondary crop. Research projects are concerned with the introduction of new techniques, adaptation potential, improvement of traditional farming methods and the combination of modern and traditional techniques.
Analysis of expenditure on food crop research reveals that only 20 percent is allocated to the combination of traditional and modern techniques. 30 percent to the adaptation of imported technologies, and 50 percent to the application, in toto, of imported techniques.
Not part of the food habits
According to studies carried out in Mauritania, the introduction of modern rice-growing techniques has not been a success, for two main reasons. First, rice requires irrigation and as Mauritania's water supply is limited, this crop is particularly difficult to grow unless capital-intensive methods are envisaged.
The second, and more important, reason is that rice has not yet become a part of the food habits of the people of the region where the pilot scheme was carried out. When it is time to plant or harvest millet and sorghum, the local people desert the rice fields to concentrate on the crops they traditionally grow and eat.
Rice growing was introduced by the agronomists solely on the basis of its good probabilities for success in technical terms.
For cotton studies arc being carried out on fertilization and crop protection. Except in rare cases, cotton research makes little use of traditional methods. Traditional hand ploughs have been used in conjunction with animal-drawn or tractor-drawn ploughs on a crop rotation of maize, cotton, sorghum and groundnuts so as to study the effects of the three types of plough.
Case studies have shown that cotton research has not much stimulated traditional methods of cultivation. Although it offers bright prospects for industrialization, cotton growing is costly because it soon exhausts the soil.
In the field of oil and oilseeds, research has been carried out on groundnuts, soybeans and sesame, with groundnuts being the main crop. Research has also been devoted to the fight against plant diseases such as chlorosis, rosette and clump. As is the case for cotton, the bulk of research is given over to soil fertilization study because groundnuts also quickly cause soil exhaustion.
To improve groundnut yield, researchers are experimenting with a rotation of crops for they consider that 'continuous groundnut cultivation should be ruled out, not only on grounds of soil exhaustion but also in the interests of pest control."
Far from brilliant
Research activities have produced interesting results, good enough to trigger technological change and a degree of agricultural development which, in their turn, should produce economic development in Africa. However, it must be admitted that not only do African countries show all the signs of an ever-increasing technology gap, but that the food situation throughout the continent is far from brilliant.
There are therefore grounds for thinking that there must be obstacles to technological innovation in African agriculture. Let us examine four of these: political, economic, technological and sociocultural.
In an article entitled "In defence of research on cash crops for export? R de Padirac, chairman of the Technical Cooperation Commission of the French National Association for Technical Research (ANRT), has the following to say: "If France wishes to maintain an effective technical relationship with the developing countries, much greater emphasis will have to be placed on technological research. It is a question of the future of French technical cooperation... We are all agreed on the necessity of expanding the sphere of influence of the French research institutions..." Is he not clearly suggesting the perpetuation of French domination, under the velvet cloak of technology? He says, further: "Agricultural research on the French side should form a single consistent whole: now, the National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) already possesses a very sound scientific organization; it specializes in food crops and works in close cooperation with the other member Institutes of the GERDAT concerned with this type of agricultural production ... For export crops produced in the Third World, which complement this French agricultural research, there should be much closer links with ORSTOM..." Who could still doubt this statement of intent to perpetuate the scientific dependence of African countries on France? How could it be possible, under such conditions, to bring about any real technological change?
Economic difficulties result especially from the excessively high cost to the peasants of solutions proposed by agricultural extension programmes. When a technological innovation is successfully introduced, the only ones to benefit from it, other than the expatriates, are the minority with sufficient financial means. There are enough examples of the failure of the green revolution to make a long discussion of this subject unnecessary. Suffice it to say that when the poor peasants are pressured by publicity campaigns into buying modern agricultural equipment they are, in fact, condemning themselves to chronic debt.
It might well appear incomprehensible that technical solutions, laboratory-tested and tried out at research stations, should have so little success on the farm, but this has actually happened in most cases in Africa. The history of 25 years of research on cocoa growing in Cameroon is a good example. This research was aimed at plant selection and control of the phytophtora palmivora fungus which attacks the cacao pods. The plants were to be treated ten times a year by spraying at intervals of fifteen days with traditional fungicides. A large-scale experiment using ten spray treatments a year over ten test areas amounting to 400 ha more than doubled normal 400-kg/ha yields, thus providing positive proof of the technical effectiveness of this procedure.
However, it was not adopted on a large scale by the planters. Studies on the reasons for the rejection of this innovation concluded that the recommendations of the agricultural extension service were based entirely on an estimate of the probability of success in technological terms. But economic estimates showed that, for an increase in production worth 25 500 CFA francs, 100 extra days' work was required, so that the average earnings per extra working day were only 255 CFA francs (approximately US$1), not a sufficient incentive for adopting this technique. The same thing happened in Senegal with the groundnut scheme.
In a cultural vacuum
The lack of interest in a systematic study of traditional farming methods that would reveal how they work in order to deduce the scientific '´laws" behind them is in itself an unscientific attitude. Belloncle quotes the example of the peasants in the Zinder region of Niger, who for years past have been concerned about the problem of dwindling soil fertility: "The soil is dead," they say. And as incontestable proof, they bring armfuls of katchemou, a plant whose appearance is a sure sign that the soil is nearly exhausted. Evidently these peasants know about leaf analysis by practical experience, without ever having had to go to agricultural college.
When technological transfer is under consideration, the usual way of going about things is to act as though it took place in a cultural vacuum. But every people has its own culture, thanks to which a technology can flourish. The sociocultural factor in the development of technology is extremely important. As proof of this, consider the great care Europeans take to safeguard their cultural heritage.
Technology conceived for a capitalist environment where individualism is of the essence cannot take root in a society totally lacking in such a concept, in a society where, for instance, there is collective land ownership, and social organization is based on a communal mode of production.
There are three basic rules without which discussion of this problem would remain nothing more than an amusing pastime devoid of any practical interest.
First, agricultural research must stop being the preserve of scientists who hide in their ivory towers far from the people concerned. For this to happen, conditions must be created to encourage mobilization of human resources. About thirty years ago, India and China were at the same level of economic development. Today, India figures among the countries with plenty of expertise, but its population remains at the mercy of the vagaries of nature, while China has managed in record time to give its people enough to eat.
Overwork and starvation
Renumont reports in The Cultural Revolution in China that, in this country, research is carried out by everyone. There is no dialectical relationship between the peasant, the technical expert and the researcher. This situation only became possible after a radical change in the social structure and relations of production. There are no people in China dying of a combination of undernourishment and overwork.
But if we take a look at Africa, we shall see that people are actually dying there from overwork and starvation. Should it still have to be pointed out that it is the same cotton-producing countries which supply the European industries that are at present surviving only on food aid from the wealthy nations?
Secondly, research objectives ought to be planned in the interests of the local population. A quick glance at the development plans of African countries will reveal that these governments announce research objectives that are not altogether consistent with the objectives for agricultural production. National development plans for some countries, like Botswana (1965-70 and 1970-75), stress the importance of reducing dependence on foreign countries, while at the same time encouraging cash-crop production aimed at increasing the income of the population.
Or, again, it does not appear from a reading of the Third Plan for economic and social development of Cameroon for the period 1971-76, the so-called "take-off" plan, that this Government actually wants to free itself from dependence on other countries. In fact, the Plan outlines the research programme for agricultural production with growth rate targets of 2.3 percent for food crops and 5.4 percent for agricultural products for export. The same situation may be seen in Senegal where' among the objectives of the plan for 1969-73, one notes "intensification of traditional groundnut/millet production, by increasing the yield per surface unit." During this period, food imports totalled 30-35 percent of the country's imports.
A new start
In Tanzania, the situation is different. The rural sector has set its own goals: priority to community farming and food crops. This decision has already been given practical expression in the loosening of the bonds of foreign dependence. The proportion of food imports has considerably decreased.
On a third point, once research on selection, improvement and development is under way, there must be a parallel development of classical agricultural research to answer the need, at the appropriate moment, for technological transfer in line with the previous stages (see diagram). We are quite aware of the possible objections to the proposals in this diagram. There are basically two of them.
The first, of a scientific and technological cast, would be that "there are numerous technologies practiced in the world which only need to be adapted to the conditions of the area to be developed; and that, research being as costly as it is, it would be better not to duplicate the work already done in the developed countries." The answer to this kind of argument is a simple one: for decades it has been known that these technologies existed. Attempts to transfer them have failed. Must the same mistakes be repeated? These technologies were created for a well-defined and particular society and are not appropriate for Africa. It is better, to start with, to rely on one's creative imagination.
The second line of criticism would be a socioeconomic one: "World population, especially in the Third World countries, keeps increasing at a dizzy speed. Poverty and starvation are getting worse all the time and are a threat to humankind. We must speed up - even skip a few stages." Here again, we have a clear and simple answer. For decades, it has been common knowledge that world population is growing faster than the means of subsistence. Indeed, Malthus discussed it in his time. Things are going badly because we are always in so much of a hurry. Rather than casting the seed on barren ground, we should take the time to start anew, and thus ensure a good outcome.