|African Agriculture: The Critical Choices (UNU, 1990, 227 pages)|
|3. Food self-sufficiency: Crisis of the collective ideology|
The Lagos Plan, despite its omissions, marks an important date in the struggle of ideas in Africa. The theory of autocentred development that presupposes national control of the economy won a great victory over ultra-liberalism, which is why, in 1981, the World Bank published a sort of counter-plan.3 Obviously, behind the Bank must be seen the leading countries of the Centre, notably the United States of America, which are laying down the path to be followed. According to the ultra-liberal thesis defended in the World Bank document, food self-sufficiency is not a scientific concept but a politico-ideological one; it derives from nationalism and not from economic analysis, which teaches that the law of comparative advantage is the best guide in food matters as it is in other areas of economic activity.
According to the Bank, it is because African economies failed to apply this principle that they are in crisis; the post-colonial states had an industrialization policy, but it was one that extracted too large a surplus from the peasantry.4 The impact of this strategic orientation on the development crisis was seen as much greater than that of 'world market forces'. If super-exploitation of the peasantry, notably through the price mechanism, had not led to industrialization, it was due to protectionism by means of fiscal and tariff privileges, over-valuation of currencies and finally a mistrust of capital that leads the state to become a necessarily inefficient entrepreneur.
The food problem is presented exclusively in its economic form in the neo-classical sense of the term. For the Bank, each African state must specialize so that the optimum allocation of its resources procures it the highest possible level of income. This allocation consists in giving priority to producing what can be developed, first under private initiative and second without protectionism, according to the doctrine adopted by Reagan that was then currently being applied in the United States.
The Bank also exploited the second major shortcoming of the Lagos Plan: its ambiguity on the role of international official assistance. It went on to lay particular stress on the need to double this assistance in real terms between 1980 and 1990, despite elsewhere registering surprise that previous assistance had not contributed to increasing food output.5 This invitation to Western governments to step up their assistance was to work in favour of the advocates of ultra-liberalism.
Numerous seminars were devoted to the Bank's plan, whereas the Lagos Plan of Action lacked the means to become widely known, but the African intelligentsia, while holding the Bank plan to be useful for its empirical data, rejected its approach as neo-colonial. Initially, African states also treated the Bank's plan with suspicion. The fact that it was rejected by a Council of Ministers (but adopted by the Central Bank Governors) shows how much pressure had to be exerted (notably on states urgently needing to reschedule their external debts) to secure its acceptance. But the two problematics could not be allowed to coexist: the Lagos Plan of Action's, which cannot be put into effect without planning and hence the state playing a key role, and the World Bank's, which is incompatible with the concept of planning and presupposes no discrimination between national capital and foreign capital. On the specific level of food, the contrast was total.