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The stain on the wall

by Edward J. Clay

Policy and practice in rural development by Guy Hunter, A.H. Bunting and Antony Bottrall. Croom Helm, London, 1976 (520 p.) £14.95.

The organizing theme of the book of the Second Reading Conference on Agricultural Change is the typology evolved by Guy Hunter for analysing agricultural development processes and the effectiveness of policy and practice; and, after ruthless editing, most of the papers published in full or in part are used to illustrate this perspective. Hunter looks at agricultural development processes to find ways of increasing the efficiency of project and programme formulation, design and evaluation. "The choice of methods of implementation, in the great diversity of technical and human situations which characterize the agricultural scene in developing countries, could be analysed by four main criteria: (1) the technical, ecological and economic situation of the farming community concerned; (2) the attitudes, capacity and needs of the farmers themselves at the time; (3) the nature of the marketing and processing channels; and (4) the administrative resources of government as the directing agency of change." The book is not about rural development in a broader sense but agricultural policy formulation and practice.

Hunter's breaking down of an agricultural policy situation in this way provides many interesting insights into problems of organization, implementation and administration. However, even as a framework for examining the processes of agricultural development, some readers will certainly find this perspective too narrow. The emphasis on the "farmer" and "farming community" (reviewer's italics) reflects the conventional single dimensional concentration on agricultural production in so much of the literature on agricultural administration, which is only being modified by the recent redirection of attention to the problem of the small farmer.

Hunter's four criteria for looking at agricultural situations provide a useful device for exploring the weaknesses of agricultural policy design and practice by extending the notion of the "appropriate" from the technical and environmental sphere to social institutions and administrative organizations The first criteria, i.e., that policy needs to take the specific technical environment into account, is unexceptionable; the problem in the past has been the slow recognition of the enormous diversity of situations that exist within quite small so-called regions, and only a painful process of learning by doing has forced this fact to the attention of the policymaker For example, the three papers on livestock development in sub-Saharan Africa by Janke and Ruthenberg, Baker and Adams show how a human disaster can result from the interaction of new agricultural technology with social forms of organization of agricultural production in a way that leads to the degradation of the physical environment.

More interesting and controversial is the attempt to extend this adaptive approach to agricultural policy to the social environment, the linkages between the agricultural and nonagricultural sectors of the economy and the forms of agricultural administration. There is a remarkable parallel between the position taken by the exponents of appropriate technology and contributors to this volume, such as Hyden who writes: "Problems are bound to arise in transplanting an organization created in response to highly specific needs of one type of society to another."

Doing something now

Most contributors are highly critical of the introduction of various forms of sophisticated cooperative organization into the rural societies of the Third World. These institutional transplants meet much of the same fate as attempts to transfer mechanical technologies: the new institution or technology is rejected or comes to play a role other than that intended by the administrators who imposed the innovation on a rural community. Attempts to impose egalitarian institutions on stratified and highly differentiated communities fail, particularly where substantial benefits provided by government flow, for as Hunter puts it so well: "The social structure and values of the society at that time will show through like a stain which cannot be painted out. The locally powerful people will still be the powerful people in the new institution, and the masses as it were will pick up the crumbs."

This leads Hunter to argue the need for institutional innovations that are in accordance with the stage of development of a particular rural society. The preferences of the editors and many of the participants at the Conference are clear: "small-scale" institutions that allow local participation and devolution and the prospect of a modest gain are better than costly failure in organizing large-scale multi-purpose cooperatives. Yet, the problems remain as stated very clearly by Lele in a paper reviewing the results of World Bank-sponsored development schemes in Africa, which "given the extreme constraint of trained manpower, even with the establishment of priorities in the establishment of services, mass participation rarely seems feasible in the short run through delivery systems oriented towards individual farmers. Therefore some delegation of responsibility to rural people is necessary."

If it is not possible to deliver services directly to the individual peasant, and group organizations inevitably fall under the sway of the dominant wealthier elite, then the advocates of egalitarian agricultural strategies would appear to be caught in a dilemma from which it is only possible to escape by radical transformation of the social environment or compromising one's egalitarian ideals. Hunter and his associates prefer the latter course of doing something now whereas some of the contributors to the seminar preferred the radical alternative.

The use of the concept commercial function to describe the economic linkages between the agricultural and nonagricultural sectors itself carries an implicit ideological preference for market and exchange relationships. This is confirmed by the nature of most of the contributions under this heading, which emphasize the failings and inefficiencies of parastatal boards, corporations and government market interventions. Contributions, such as those of Stutley on government interventions in agricultural marketing and Bottrall on small farmer credit, provide a salutary reminder of the poor record of some government activities in these fields. The impression that comes across is that a case should be made for government intervention or state trading activity rather than a case for leaving an activity in the private sector.

The themes of local participation and the need for the devolution of administrative responsibility and increased sensitivity to the local environment occur repeatedly in the papers on agricultural administration. In a brilliant paper full of instructive examples, such as that of the agricultural extension workers who are assigned seasonal work loads by the central administration ranging from 20 to 400 percent of their working capacity, Chambers demonstrates the need to apply the techniques of management science to agricultural administration and resource management. In a paper on rural works programmes, John Thomas and associates finally bring us full circle in demonstrating the need to tailor projects to the specific environment in which they are to be implemented This solitary paper on programmes designed to cope with problems of poverty, income distribution and unemployment among the landless and near landless is a reflection on the limited perception of the agricultural development problem held by the organizers and editors of the Conference proceedings.

A continuing theme

The model of development that underlies Hunter's typology is that of a continuum from "traditional" subsistence economy to a state of increased "sophistication" and development-minded farmers marketing a substantial part of their output. The role of government is to facilitate this process. This concept of "sequential change" may fit in a number of the African countries from which so much of the case study material comes. However, where the processes of rural social change and population growth have already created a substantial substratum of landless, as in many of the societies of south and southeast Asia, an egalitarian rural development policy will require a different perspective: without a land reform, a small farmer oriented strategy is concerned with the rural middle class.

A limitation of the topological approach to analysing agricultural development is that it impedes the analysis of socioeconomic constraints on development, which cut across all the compartments into which the development problem has been subdivided. Thus, the programme distortions created by local power elites redirecting to themselves resources intended to be more broadly distributed are a continuing theme throughout the book: for example, in the study of irrigation management by Thornton in the section on the environment, in the papers dealing with cooperatives and extension problems, in the paper by Bottrall on small farmer credit and the review of rural works programmes. The strength of the typological approach is that it focuses on problems of design and efficiency in agricultural policy; the weakness is that it diverts attention from problems that transcend these categories. This is then very much a book for the agricultural administrator and practitioner of development whose goal is to improve the efficiency of agricultural policy within a given sociopolitical environment. This is also a book rich in theoretical and practical insights, particularly from Africa.

The most controversial aspect of the book is the underlying presumption of the editors that there is scope for significant piecemeal improvement in almost all systems, a view not shared by all contributors. There is also little coverage in this work on the organization of structural change and the problems of management of agricultural administration after major social change has taken place. Yet, the usefulness of a typological approach has not been fully tested until it is extended to take these situations, as well as societies where governments have adopted a "sequential"; approach to agricultural development, into account.