The basic needs strategy
The basic needs strategy is today well known. Studies made under
the auspices of the World Bank, the ILO and many other agencies have widely
publicized its content. We are not, therefore, going to fill a void at this
level. In our section on the policy of developing agricultural smallholdings, we
have attempted to raise a few practical problems that its implementation
The strategy involves measures at the level of the rural areas and
the urban areas, measures at the national and international level, economic and
We should like here simply to make a few comments on the
problematic of the strategy as it relates to the rural areas, and its
implications at the level of the whole capitalist system.
In the first place, the basis of the strategy is to seek to act on
the situation of the poor with a view to improving it while at the same time
preserving the underlying structures of society. But the poor do not live lives
apart, but live within a society whose structures determine their conditions of
existence. It is determinate relations of production that give rise to poverty
and impoverishment and reproduce them at ever higher levels. Thus, without
attacking these relations of production, one can only attack the effects and not
The strategy proceeds through the implementation of projects
accompanied by a few proposals for reforms, which are usually quite vague. The
projects are usually financed from abroad by big capital and are intended to
relate to the sectors where the great disinherited masses live, that is, the
vast traditional sector of the rural areas and the marginalized sectors of the
urban areas. These sectors had previously been only indirectly or directly, but
very loosely, integrated into the capitalist system. It is well known that
wherever capital invests it tends to reproduce the relations of production that
are typical of it and especially when the context is favourable, as it is in
countries that are dominated and integrated into the system. It can thus be
assumed that the implementation of these projects will lead to acceleration of
the integration of these sectors into the economy governed by the rules of the
system whose basic law is the quest for profit, and not help for the poor.
The financing of 'basic needs' projects does not undermine that of
old type projects which incarnate the system of relations inherited from the
colonial period. The extraverted general orientation of the economies thus
remains intact, and it is to be feared that the food projects are simply means
intended to sustain large-scale cash crop projects.
The capital invested is loans and as such these have to be repaid
to those who set the original conditions. If the possibility of retrieving funds
invested is not guaranteed, it is doubtful whether the investments would be
made. But the sectors in which the impoverished masses live are sectors that are
very little structured in terms either of institutions or infrastructure. This
raises the likelihood of risks and leads the providers of funds to undertake
detailed studies to select the lowest-risk situations. This inevitably leads to
situations where cases of real impoverishment are left aside because they are
not economically profitable.
If cases of failure multiply, it is to be feared that the strategy
will be aborted. But the risks of failure are great given that the stress is put
on the need for capital rather than on questioning the socio-economic structures
of the countries concerned.
The reforms proposed to accompany the implementation of projects
are very timid. But even with these minuscule reforms, how can there be any
certainty that they will indeed be implemented and not taken over by the
possessing classes. This leads one to wonder whether so-called projects for the
poor would not profit the rich even more.
Development of the rural areas
It is in this regard that the literature on basic needs is most
prolific, and it is indeed in this sector that the vast majority of the poorest
people live, especially in Africa. We shall examine the overall goal proposed by
the advocates of the strategy and then the means.
The goal: In his speech to the Board of Governors of the
Bank, on 24 September 1973 in Nairobi, the President of the World Bank defined
the goal thus: 'I suggest that the goal be to increase production on small farms
so that by 1985 their output will be growing at the rate of 5% per year. If the
goal is met, and smallholders maintain that momentum, they can double their
annual output between 1985 and the end of the century.'
A preliminary remark, or rather a reminder, is that the estimates
of the population affected by the basic needs strategy are inflated. In fact,
these estimates relate to the population of the project area whereas a good
proportion of this population does not participate in the project for various
reasons (insufficient irrigated areas, credit inaccessible, etc.).
In so far as the farms affected by the project are concerned, is
it logical to think that an annual 5% average growth rate can be attained
between 1973 and 1985? There is no reason at all to think so. For many
smallholders, their farms are generally not more than I ha. in size. Given the
credit conditions - which we shall consider below - these farmers will find it
difficult to have access to inputs. Not being in a position to use inputs making
intensification possible, it will be impossible for them to sustain over a long
period an annual growth rate of 5% of production on small farms whose fertility
will rather be on a declining trend.
But even for the peasants who will effectively be able to reach 5%
annual growth rate of production, how can one be sure that their standard of
living will rise in consequence? In fact, it is known that most African states
top up their budgets by creaming off the resources of the rural areas. The price
systems, the tax systems, the credit system are all so many means that assure
transfers of resources from the peasant producers to other social strata, not to
mention the constant deterioration of the terms of trade between agricultural
products and inputs. An annual production growth rate of 5% can perfectly well
be accompanied by a deterioration of the conditions of existence of the
It is symptomatic to observe that the promoters of the strategy
are only preoccupied with increasing production, without raising the problem of
knowing who is to benefit from this increase.
The means: The means to be deployed are presented as
Acceleration in the rate of land and tenancy
Better access to credit.
Assured availability of
Expanded extension facilities backed by intensified agricultural
Greater access to public services.
And most critical of all: new forms of rural institutions and
organizations that will give as much attention to promoting the inherent
potential and productivity of the poor as is generally given to protecting the
power of the privileged.1
But what does this catalogue of proposals, at first sight most
appealing, cover? To find out, we shall look more closely at the details
provided by other documents which analyse the proposals in