|Good News from Africa - Farmers, Agricultural Research, and Food in the Pantry (IFPRI, 1998, 72 p.)|
The stories related in this book show what excellent results can be obtained from well-organized agricultural research. But it will take more than that, if sound agricultural development and a reliable and sustainable food supply are to be achieved on a large scale.
Above all else, it is vital that national and local authorities function properly and that decent policies in support of agricultural development are drafted. In practice, this means - among other things - that farmers should have access to new agricultural technology: new seed varieties, for instance. Inherent in this, too, is the necessity for reasonable buying and selling prices. And farmers must be assured of a dependable delivery service, with supplies arriving on time for each stage in the farming calendar. The farmers need to know that advice is to be had on how best to plan their work; fertilizer, farm implements, grain sacks, milk churns, and the like must be readily at hand.
There are many places where the public advisory service does not function as well as it should, due to a shortage of personnel, of new information, of practical experience drawn from the local test fields, and, not least, of the transport necessary for making timely seasonal visits to the farmers. The advisory service must, therefore, be rendered more efficient, and the farmers' own knowledge base must be enhanced by means of better and longer schooling.
The agricultural community has to be able to purchase agricultural supplies and to sell off its agricultural surplus, and both sides of this market need to be improved. In many countries, the state has assumed responsibility for buying and selling in the agricultural sector. In the majority of cases this has led to systems that are unwieldy, expensive, inefficient, and strictly regulated. In most countries the privatization of this area is already under way, and steps must be taken to ensure that this leads to reliable and efficient systems in which open competition will set reasonable price levels. If the market is working well, this in itself can give a considerable boost to food production.
Government authorities can reinforce agricultural production by building and maintaining a road system designed to guarantee a dependable transport service to and from the rural areas. There is a need for decent storage facilities and a reliable communications network (telephone, fax, and so forth), in order that goods and transport can be ordered as they are needed.
Another vital task involves making it easier for farmers to obtain loans from banks and credit unions, thus affording them the wherewithal to make improvements on their farms. In many countries this will require a relaxation of the rules that dictate who can be granted a loan and how to apply for one.
One major, and problematic, area is the environmental side of agricultural production. Clear rules must be established as to who has the right to use natural resources, such as water, forests, trees, and farmland. It will be up to the authorities to make certain that these rules are respected and to involve individual farmers as well as the local community in the work of restoring and preserving land that has been degraded and rendered almost useless for agricultural purposes. Unless each and every village understands the importance of this task, the process of degradation will simply continue.
In the days when there was still plenty of virgin country suitable for farming, the land was common property and the right to work it amounted to a right of use. As agricultural land has become more scarce, the need for a better way of allocating it and of establishing who actually owns it has arisen. This question of land allocation is fraught with problems. Large-scale farmers can own so much that smallholders and farm workers do not contribute enough to agriculture. And the right of use can be so tenuous and so short term that the farmer sees no point in spending money on improvements, for example by planting windbreaks, constructing terraces, or using fertilizer. In the interests of food security it is absolutely essential that the powers that be in the countries of Africa implement viable land reforms over the years ahead.
One vital factor in all of the above-mentioned reforms and improvements is that women be accorded the same rights and conditions as men. In the majority of African countries the number of women farmers is roughly equal to the number of men, while in many places the women are clearly in the majority. And in every country, women do a great deal of the work on the farms, even where it is men who own the land. The advisory service, banks, buyers, and local authorities must, therefore, adopt exactly the same approach toward women as they have toward men, if women's efforts are to be turned to good account.
Many of the tasks mentioned here are obviously of relevance to the society in general, stretching far beyond the bounds of the agricultural community. Likewise, it is essential, both for agricultural development and for security of the food supply, that general reforms within the spheres of health and welfare, family planning, civil rights, and education be fulfilled in such a way that the effects will be felt by society at large in Africa.