After the crisis, back to basics
In response to the 'Viewpoint' article by Jacques Hecq published in the previous issue of SPORE, was this reaction from Brah Mahamane, Executive Secretary of CILLS.
The first consequence of the long drought that we experienced in the Sahel from 1968 to 1973 (when CILSS was established in Ouagadougou) was the birth and development of a common interest in controlling our future. With the creation of CILSS governments began to learn to live with the drought, having realized that climatic instability was a development factor that wasn't about to change.
This meant accepting the unreliability of rainfall -its quantity, its timing and its location- as a fact of life The second consequence was that this crisis resulted in many positive steps being taken by the people of the Sahel. Such initiatives, with or without government support, resulted in local development activities that would have been unthinkable ten years earlier.
Another positive effect of the drought was that the Sahel was recognized, both internationally and regionally, as a very fragile region that was suffering not only from a natural catastrophe - the drought but also from the global economic crisis. In fact, the worst effect of the drought was the upheaval of all the economies in the Sahel, a situation now exacerbated by the degraded state of the environment.
As Sahelians, our history and culture have taught us to consider time and space as unlimited. After the drought, we saw that our environment had also suffered and that our traditional production systems were no longer able to provide for us or our livestock. We thus understood the need to build a future with limited resources. Another major consequence of the drought, which magnified all of the normal problems facing development, was being forced to improve our ability to understand and deal with these problems. Such experience will be very useful for future development programmes in the Sahel.
The drought had very negative effects on our economies, but it also taught us some valuable lessons, including the need to improve regional cooperation to overcome such problems. When small farmers are forced to abandon their land (or nomadic herders their livestock) and seek refuge in an urban area, even if they are subsequently able to return to the countryside, they will have suffered a major social and psychological shock.
This can have both positive and negative effects, but it is the latter that seem to dominate. Small farmers and nomadic herders are going to continue to live under this shock and it is up to us to take advantage of the situation by promoting (with the help of governments and the international community) production systems that are more appropriate to these new conditions: herding methods that are fess 'contemplative' and farming techniques that do not exhaust the land
But the willingness of people to live on a resource base that is shrinking due to population pressure can only be reinforced if there are adequate financial rewards. Their investments in protecting the environment for future generations must be rewarded by some assurance that they or their children - will somehow share in these benefits.
A farmer who sold his millet for 18,000 FCFA per sack in 1984 is now getting only 4,000 FCFA per sack because the rains have returned and food aid is still continuing to arrive. Under such circumstances, how can farmers be expected to invest in crop intensification ? Even if they only use local inputs such as manure or compost to fertilize their soil, they must be assured that their efforts will be compensated, if not immediately, then at least over the long term.
There are thus many important policies that must be implemented in the areas of regional planning and land reform to respond to these concerns so that trees will be planted and soil will be conserved.
All of the member countries of CILSS are now engaged in such efforts. The battle against desertification depends on their success. If a farmer needs land to grow food, or a community needs space to develop, such resources must be protected. Land reform is thus a prerequisite for desertification control.
As far as prices are concerned, they do not depend only on government decisions; small farmers also influence prises either consciously or subconsciously. They are constantly faced with determining whether or not their potential revenue exceeds their labour and overhead costs. If they think that the risks are too large, they simply will not invest.
At the moment, neither the supply networks nor the storage systems for cereals are subject to controls guaranteeing the prices paid to farmers. But such controls cannot simply be legislated into existence. Governments in the Sahel have encouraged the development of traditional storage facilities at the village level, but when a crisis erupts responsibility reverts to the national level.
In order to halt rice imports, local production must be increased. And to increase local production small farmers must be encouraged by a good pricing policy. At the moment, however, we do not have the means to imolement such a policy.
There are many things to be done in the Sahel in the wake of the drought, but we should not let such circumstances distract us from the need to deal with these fundamental problems.
The authors bear entire responsibility for the views expressed in this column.
The main pant of this article was published in the magazine Inter Tropiques no19 entitled Le Sahel entre deux urqences.
Mr. Brah Mahamane, former minister for breeding development of Niger, is today the Executive Secretary of CILSS, Interstate Committee for Drought Control, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.