|The Crisis in African Agriculture - Studies in African Political Economy (UNU, 1987, 99 pages)|
|7: The alternative and its prerequisites|
The new economic and social policy must be centred mainly on the development of the rural areas which have hitherto been bled white to be able to carry out policies linked to the interests of a few possessing classes and hence unpopular policies.
The starting point for a policy to develop the rural areas seems to lie in the peasants and the rural areas as a whole having the possibility of organizing themselves freely and independently. These organizations which would be created all over the rural areas must be able to enjoy full decision-making powers. The basic cell of these organisations in the rural areas might be the village, as Guy Belloncle suggests in his book La Question Paysanne en Afrique Noire (published by Editions Karthala).
However, it is important not to over-romanticize the traditional village structures. They sometimes involve ideologically-backed social relations that might constitute brakes on development. In fact, in most countries at the village level there exist lineage, tribal or caste relations solidly sustained by fossilized ideologies hostile to progress.
These outmoded relations must be undermined by organization and work; they often involve disguised or visible links of dependency that obscure and restrict 'democratic power structures', about which Guy Belloncle writes in the book mentioned above. It is then that true village communities could come into being shorn of age-old defects where, with the equality of all in decision-making eliminating the hierarchy of established authorities, they would reinforce the solidarity of all in the community as a whole. An organization thus built from the village upwards and spread to the whole countryside with strong structures could constitute the backbone of the new governments in countries where the rural areas are so dominant.
Being thus organized at the national level the peasantry, or more precisely the rural inhabitants, would actively participate in the preparation of the economic and social policy of the new governments and in supervising its implementation. The rural areas would be present at the highest level of the new political system through their leading bodies and their delegates, and at the base through the whole village community.
In many countries this reorganization of the rural areas would necessitate the amalgamation of numerous villages that are too small and too scattered. Through this amalgamation of villages to achieve a relatively large size, it is possible to realize a number of goals, the most important of which is certainly to shift peasant life and work from the narrow family framework to the village communal framework. At one stroke this would facilitate the circulation of information, be it political or technical. More egalitarian access to inputs and the means of production would be promoted. Access to the infrastructure of schools, health facilities and other basic services would be achieved much more cheaply.
The countryside must offer every facility to guarantee the total security of the rural worker and his family throughout their lives in the framework of the village community.
How can this be achieved on the economic level? We do not think there is any need to have recourse to vast sums of capital coming from abroad, which are swallowed up in endless studies for which the peasant has to pay but whose results he never sees.
Use must first be made of the immense resources of the rural areas, hitherto wasted, pillaged, misappropriated, taxed and transferred to the benefit of other social strata.
Access to land: First, access to land must be secured to all and be equitable for all. In countries where big landowners exist, all land will purely and simply be transferred to the village communities which will be responsible for their fair allocation while moving towards their collective development.
For land that requires irrigation, the labour could be performed by human investment by the village community, aided technically, where necessary, by the governing organs of popular power.
What must be avoided at all costs is big impressive dams built at the cost of millions of dollars borrowed from abroad, repayment of which mortgages national economic policy and is beyond peasant resources.
Production: On the level of production, with nothing ruled out, every product that can be a source of food must be sought out and developed: crop products and products of gathering. Research will be necessary into the conservation or processing of some of them. The fact is that it is not uncommon in the African bush and forest to see fruit trees bear their whole crop at certain seasons. These perfectly edible fruits finish up going rotten for lack of means of picking and preserving them.
Added to this is the tendency in some fairly well-off strata - except in periods of famine, of course - to consider some products as non-'noble', products of gathering in particular, whereas they may be very rich in calories and vitamins. There is work to be done to sensitive and to inform people so as to turn these into products of mass consumption, which would make it possible to enrich and vary diets.
As for cash crops not intended for consumption, like cotton, or which are not for everyday consumption, like coffee and cocoa, there can be no question of halting their production since they constitute important resources for countries and peoples. There will need to be studies of how to regulate production of them in terms first of the food needs of the population, and then of the demands of the international market.
Inputs and improving techniques: This is one of the most difficult problems to solve since the inputs are not, generally, produced on the spot and their cost on the world market is high and rising sharply from year to year. Imports of them must thus be reduced and limited to what is strictly necessary given the very limited resources of national economies and the impact of their cost on peasant resources. While imports of them must be limited, it is not, however, possible to do without inputs to improve productivity and considerably reduce extensive agriculture, which is a source of rapid deterioration of soils.
A solution must be found to the dilemma that consists in having recourse to the world market, whereas the goal is to delink from this market, and the need to modernize agriculture.
That is where the strategy of industrialization in Africa should be mainly concentrated, putting itself at the service of agricultural development.
A host of industries would be established throughout the rural areas of Africa which could meet agriculture's need for inputs of all sorts; the making of ploughs, carts and seeders, the production of fertilizers insecticides, selected seeds, etc.
Here more research needs to be devised and carried out so that the products of these industries do indeed correspond to the particular characteristics and natural conditions of African agriculture. African peasants have had enough of the unfortunate experience with imported technology, that, in addition to its high cost, was sometimes ill-adapted to their working conditions and their natural environment. In order to limit the damage and reduce dependence, we think that the technical conception of these industries necessitates the collaboration of artisans, peasants and technicians trained in rural technical institutes, and the help of other underdeveloped countries that have registered striking successes with this sort of experience. We are thinking in particular of certain countries in Asia which were absolutely determined to free themselves from the tutelage of imperialism, to put an end to their domination and dependence.
Organization: We have already discussed at length the crucial need for powerful well-structured organizations of the peasantry as the prerequisite of rural development, and we must now reflect on the forms that these organizations might take to be able to put into effect the strategy that we have just outlined.
It might, for example, be possible to conceive a union of rural cooperatives which would have as its basic cell the whole village community united in a co-operative. The village co-operative would look after all the problems of the village community, even if the community were composed mainly of peasants in the vast majority of cases. What we mean is that it would be responsible also for solving the problems of herdsmen, fishermen, artisans, etc., in order to coordinate the activities of different groups of producers and create social harmony within the village community.
The co-operative will thus have a very extensive field of action. It will be responsible for the collection and marketing of the products of the whole village community. It will create distribution circuits and control the credit system. Thus, it will facilitate and ensure balance in the exchanges between producers at the local level. In the same way, it will be the sole intermediary in exchanges between the village and the world outside the village, especially exchanges with the Co-operative Union. This will purchase its products and sell it the inputs and other products that it needs. A profit margin will be allowed the co-operative. Its profits will go into a loan account and be used for public works in the village community.
It must be laid down that the main aim of the loan account is to strengthen solidarity within the community. Its prime purpose will thus be to help its members in difficulties: peasants who lack machinery, herdsmen needing watering troughs, etc.
The co-operative, with a mainly economic function, will be under the control of the village assembly which will have a much more political function. The village assembly will be able at any time to check the management of the co-operative and it will transmit directives to it to meet the needs of the community. In addition, the assembly will undertake and sustain the political, economic and social mobilization of the community. Gradually, it will seek the means to move from family to communal labour and farming in more and more areas.