Mahmoud ben Romdhane
The purpose of this chapter is to analyse state policy towards
agriculture over the last two decades and its impact on the peasantry and
agricultural production. The essential conclusions that emerge and will be
developed, are that, with the exception of the market gardening and fruit
sub-sector, in which the state made major investments and where the
beneficiaries of investment in irrigation gained substantial advantages.
Tunisian agriculture has been used as a reservoir from which to extract an
increasingly large surplus to the benefit of extra-agricultural capital. As a
result of the continuous depreciation of the main agricultural products' prices
the peasantry has been unable to save enough to finance productive investment,
and capital. 'the bearer of capitalist rationality' has simply fled agriculture
whose share of investment has diminished drastically period by period.
Consequently, agricultural production has improved only extremely slowly and,
from being an agricultural surplus country. Tunisia has gradually become a
deficit country, particularly in strategic food products (cereals, milk, sugar
This was the situation up to 1979. Since then, the food deficit
has continued to worsen, but it seems that since 1980 there has been a
turn-about in agricultural policy which is reflected both in a new emphasis on
agricultural products and in the financial and institutional resources made
available (or in the process of being made available) to farmers.
But this turn-around has not yet been taken up with the required
determination. It remains in fact dependent. 1) on a domestic social situation
in which urban actors' threat to reduce the margin of manoeuvre necessary for
the implementation of a new agricultural policy is all the greater because the
confrontation with them is occurring against a tense economic background; and.
2) on an international situation in which the downward fluctuations of
international prices threaten to reduce the urgency of a policy of encouraging
agriculture simply because the turn-around itself was dictated essentially by
the sudden rise of the international prices of the leading agricultural products
between 1979 and 1981.
But if this turn around were to succeed in establishing itself and
giving way to a policy that did not exclude agriculture, is there not the risk
of a deployment of capital in agriculture with all its attendant consequences -
or alleged consequences: further concentration of landownership, development of
the wage nexus and rejection of the peasantry? For if the policy, that for two
or three decades has consisted in reducing the prices of the main agricultural
products, has helped remove agriculture from the field of capitalist investment
and keep it basically a world of peasants, a policy of encouraging agriculture
may indeed lead to an improvement in the standard of living of the peasant
masses and keeping them on their holdings, but it may also lead to an extension
of the spatial and social area of capital within agriculture and the eviction of
at least part of the peasantry.
That is the real issue in coming years: everything will depend on
the concrete implementation of the new policy - if the turnaround does indeed
prove to be permanent. In order to put an end to food dependence, two paths are
practicable: one based on capital, out-and-out resort to mechanization and
rejection of the peasantry, the other, on the promotion of the peasantry and the