|African Agriculture: The Critical Choices (UNU, 1990, 227 pages)|
|3. Food self-sufficiency: Crisis of the collective ideology|
Of several possible readings of the Lagos Plan of Action I shall mention three.
The first considers that it is essentially ideological in content, or the outcome of an exercise in rhetoric. It would then be necessary to oppose it with a more 'scientifically' formulated document: one with no obvious political or ideological content. Furthermore, it is alleged that the language used is too Third Worldist. This is the Western viewpoint expressed in the World Bank report, for which the quest for the autonomy of the agro-food system does not promote development, but on the contrary hampers it, since it involves using resources in a way that does not maximize 'world welfare'.
The second reading consists in considering the Lagos Action Plan as an interesting document but one that should be consigned to the archives, since there are no social forces to demand its implementation. On the contrary, the crisis is pushing governments to go deep in debt rather than to implement the World Bank's programme.
My reading consists in examining the Plan with a critical eye and considering it as a step on the road to the formulation of objectives and strategies that respond to Africa's needs. The Plan presents the achievement of food self-sufficiency as an aspect of a global strategy of autocentred development. The preamble recalls that, in Africa, the principal feature of the crisis of economic development (and not only of growth) is integration into the capitalist system as a periphery for several centuries. The priority given to agricultural development is largely justified by historical experience and by theory. This point is important: it is what led to placing such hopes in the Lagos Plan despite its gaps and contradictions. To the extent that it has now been practically abandoned, it must be asked if it has fallen victim to its own weaknesses. The drafters used the concept of the strategy of food self-sufficiency in a very narrow sense, since it excluded: gaining control of the food agro-culture system; and problems of securing autonomous financing, industrialization and the accelerated development of a technological base necessary for food agriculture. In addition, the diagnosis ignored the problem of the distribution of the product during either the colonial or the post-colonial period. In particular, the economic and political relations that, in general, make super-exploitation of the peasants and rural dwellers possible, to the benefit of a small domestic minority (urban and rural) and the nations in the Centre, and not of industrialization or of the towns in general, are not spelled out. Consequently, the means advocated to achieve recovery remained very vague; in these circumstances, it was easy to predict the achievement of self-sufficiency between 1980 and 1985. Even this objective, limited though it was, was not attained but rather became more remote. For, in addition to technical weaknesses, the Lagos Plan of Action presupposed that another condition was fulfilled - that every African state has the social capacity (historical legitimacy) and the technical capacity (institutions, well-trained, nationalist and critical intelligentsia) to carry through a policy of food self-sufficiency inspired either by the Chinese or by the Indian model. But the states whose leaders effectively enjoyed historical legitimacy did not delink enough to initiate true agricultural revolutions.