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close this book African agriculture: The critical choices
close this folder 2. The role of the export sector
View the document The decline in agricultural production
View the document Failure of the export model
View the document Alternative strategies: Algeria and Ethiopia
View the document Social relations and agricultural development

Alternative strategies: Algeria and Ethiopia

The extraverted pattern of accumulation has finally led to blocking the development dynamic and an irreducible dualism of economic and social structures. Promotion of the export sector has produced 'structural effects', a trend to social and economic polarization that marginalizes the vast majority of the rural population.

The alternative experiences, illustrated by the Algerian and Ethiopian cases, have concentrated on building up relations between agriculture and industry and meeting rural demand for producer and consumer goods. Modernizing agriculture and improving rural labour's productivity are thus placed at the very centre of the development problematic.

In Algeria, the stress on industrialization, in a first phase, aimed 1) to set up industries capable 'of bringing technological progress to the heart of the most backward sector, agriculture';18 and. 2) by diversifying economic activities, to create sufficient jobs eventually to absorb the surplus of rural labour, without which rapid growth of agricultural productivity is impeded.

The relationship between agriculture and industry has thus been accorded special attention and priority has been given to investment designed to provide agriculture with the means to modernize its techniques of production. The development of iron and steel and petro-chemical industries, which form the backbone of the industrialization process, served as the focus for the construction of engineering, electrical and chemical sectors designed to meet agriculture's demand for producer goods: agricultural implements, machinery, fertilizers, irrigation equipment and so on. After a decade and a half, large quantities of various capital goods have been delivered to agriculture, notably in the area of mechanization.

But relations between agriculture and industry could intensify only in so far as conditions of productivity in the employment of capital and labour existed, enabling agriculture to develop and finance purchases from industry and raise the purchasing power of rural households. The question of the evolution of agricultural productivity thus becomes of fundamental importance.

In Algeria, where the land is relatively overpopulated, improving labour productivity necessarily involves an increase in physical production per unit of surface area. Raising peasant incomes is then possible only if agricultural productivity is rising faster than agricultural employment. For it is possible to increase production per hectare without altering labour productivity if agriculture has proportionally to absorb as many new workers as it creates extra goods.

In China, for example, labour productivity calculated in man-days appears to have declined considerably between 1950 and 1975, most of the increase in incomes having been provided by an increase in the number of days worked per worker in agriculture; from 175 days in the late 1950s to 275 days per worker per annum in 1975.19

The movement of employment is thus a strategic variable, determining the productivity gains of labour in agriculture and final demand by sector. Agriculture will perform its role in the development process all the better when other sectors, and principally industry, are in a position to reduce population pressure on the land.

The numerous criticisms of the Algerian strategy 'based on priority for industry and the abandonment of agriculture', criticisms generally directed at countries which attempt to escape from the import-substitution industrialization model, thus fundamentally misunderstand the basic facts about its development model. Algeria has based its industrialization on an internal dynamic that makes growth of the local market a condition of the development process, and agriculture's demand, both for producer and industrially produced consumer goods, is an essential dimension of that process.

Contrary to what has often been written, the autocentred strategy is a true 'rehabilitation of agriculture and the rural areas' that starts from the need for purchasing power in the rural areas in order to extend the local market and pursue development.20 It is also necessary to emphasize that Algeria is half-way along in its industrialization process. The phase of capital goods industries 'whose size testifies to the capacity for self-transformation of the economic system'21 has not yet reached a significant level. The 1980-84 and 1985-89 plans proposed to continue the establishment of capital goods industries and thus reduce dependence on imports necessary for the functioning of the production apparatus. Capital and intermediate goods still represent almost 50% of total imports. It thus appears that the inter-sectoral and intra-sectoral integration project has not been pushed far enough to give the economy a (relative) autonomy in its accumulation project.

The more or less rapid and sizeable transfer of the surplus rural labour force to non-agricultural activities can help or hinder the growth of productivity, and thus determine the intensity of relations between agriculture and industry. In other words, the development problematic consisted in seeking the conditions of a continuous improvement of rural labour productivity, given the specific constraints of the economy.

Naturally, given Algeria's demographic situation, an absolute reduction of the rural population in order to accelerate the process of labour productivity growth, such as happened in Europe from the late 19th century, was ruled out. In the most favourable circumstances, agriculture will have to absorb a proportion of the annual growth of the labour force for an indeterminate period.

This explains the strategic role of industrialization and the growth of non-agricultural employment, in realizing a growth rate of productivity per worker in agriculture that would make it possible both to fuel agriculture's demand for industrial goods and to improve the producers' standard of living.

Globally, the analysis suggested by Aït Amara shows that the industry-led development dynamic has had positive effects on the growth of the agricultural sector, notably in employment and incomes. Throughout the 1970s and the first half of the 1980s, job creation was sufficiently sustained to absorb the whole of the additional demand for jobs both in the towns and in the countryside, thus making it possible to stabilize the numbers of those working in agriculture at the 1960s level, at the same time as extending mechanization. The industrialization process also made it possible to widen the domestic outlets for agriculture and to increase agricultural incomes as a result of rising demand and prices. In addition, it contributed to keeping the majority of the small peasantry, living on holdings that were too small, in the rural areas by providing them with extra jobs and incomes without which they could not have remained in the countryside.

Analysis of the Algerian case, however, shows that in countries with strong population pressure on the land, if industrialization is a necessary prior condition, then an increase in yields is essential; by itself, industrialization is not sufficient to sustain a lasting process of agricultural growth.22 Progress cannot be limited to the material factors of production, it also concerns the biological aspects that influence the evolution of yields and the capacity of peasants to master new production techniques. This interdependence, or interaction, of different links in 'the chain of agricultural progress' explains the very slow diffusion of technological change in agriculture, and the importance of structural policies that attempt to accelerate its spread. Structural reforms are thus a fundamental aspect of the problematic of the modernization of agriculture. 'in so far as concerns both the ownership of land and the performance of labour itself.'23

In Algeria, the process of structural reform was deliberately limited, and in addition interrupted, in the 1980s. In 1982, the government dissolved the agrarian reform sector established in the 1970s, and terminated aid provided to the subsistence sector through service co-operatives. The collective sector that had emerged from the nationalization of settler lands in 1963 was once again reorganized, stressing intervention by the state in the functioning and management of the 'socialist agricultural estates'. The policy of gradually reducing the agrarian dualism inherited from the colonial period, initiated by the 1971 agrarian reform through a gradual reorganization of labour and ownership, has been abandoned in favour of a path for developing agriculture that seeks to rely on individual exploitation of the land and a greater role given to the market.

The result is a limited employment of agricultural resources, despite a very high rate of food dependency and the maintenance of distortions in the productive structure compared to the demand for food, notably in order to contain the rise in farm prices within limits that do not excessively compromise the global economic balances. This evolution of agrarian relations further accentuates the importance of the oil rent in the development process and neglects the mobilization of a domestic surplus generated by a broad development of productive forces in agriculture. It also testifies to the class limits that may impede the full realization of an autocentred development model. Ethiopia appears not to have set such limits, but bases the accumulation dynamic on the effects of a radical reform of agrarian structures.

Ethiopia completely reversed its approach to development after the advent of people's power. The agro-export model of import-substitution industrialization pursued until 1974 was abandoned and replaced by a strategy of mobilizing the principally agricultural domestic surplus. This surplus, writes M. Douri, can result only from increasing the yields and labour productivity of the whole peasant sector. This explains the vital importance of the agrarian reform in Ethiopia in opening up access to all of technological progress. The abolition of the feudal tenure system simultaneously transformed both the ownership regime and the social relations of production. It created a new mode of organization and production that literally liberated the rural productive forces and cast aside the obstacles to intensifying labour and improving productivity. This movement rests on peasant associations, which are responsible for allocating land and promoting service co-operatives.

Since 1976, the peasant associations have been developing forms of cooperation between their members and embarking on a process of rural industrialization built around peasant needs. Service co-operatives constitute an increasing source of employment and accumulation that benefits the development of the rural economy. The key question, writes M. Douri, is how to meet the new peasant demand consequent upon the agrarian reform and the changes in the distribution of the country's wealth. Thus, the agrarian reform has been accompanied by a process of industrialization more closely subordinated to meet the needs of agriculture whose social, structural and technical transformation it sustains.

The Ethiopian experience testifies to the key role of structural reforms, in the broad sense, in the dynamic of relations between agriculture and industry and brings out the importance of the knock-on effects peasant demand and new modes of organizing labour and agricultural production can have on the development process. Which types of social relations should be chosen in order to accelerate the development of agriculture thus reappears as an essential question in the problematic of the modernization of agriculture.