Cover Image
close this book SPORE No. 21 - January 1989
View the document Pisciculture : a growth industry?
View the document Fish from farm ponds
View the document This land is my land
Open this folder and view contents CTA Activities
Open this folder and view contents Newsline
View the document Courses
View the document ICARDA

This land is my land

If ACP countries are to improve their agricultural productivity they must do so through their rural people. And, if full employment, food self-sufficiency and an exportable surplus of agricultural products are to be achieved, rural people must tee motivated. Owner ship of land is a powerful incentive, especially among young people who see no future for themselves as hired labour but who arewilling to work atbuilding up their own family holding. In the majority of Caribbean countries, widespread land ownership is very recent but, in several countries where land reform and re-distribution has begun, the benefits are already evident.

For much of their modern history most Caribbean countries were developed as plantation economies, where the mass of the population worked as labour on monoculture estates owned by a minority of landowners or foreign-based companies. However, many foreign-based companies, and even some large local landowners, found the combination of poor prices for the main plantation crops (banana, citrus, cocoa, coconut and sugar)and rising labour costs and unrest in the 1970s too problematic, and either sold up or abandoned their estates. As a result, governments gained possession and were provided with the opportunity to offer the land in small blocks to previously landless people.

Privatization in Grenada

In Grenada, by 1983 a succession of governments had acquired 36 estates, ranging from 17-105 hectares (40-250 acres). In 1986 it was decided by the Government to 'divest' these estates: to divide them into economically viable units and to offer them for private ownership.

In common with the majority of islands in the Caribbean, Grenada has a very steep terrain so at divestment, farmers were encouraged to continue to grow one of the major crops - banana, cocoa and nutmeg but to diversify by growing other crops for food and for sale. In order to do this without encouraging erosion, a programme of soil and water conservation was started in which the farmers were involved. With FAO technical assistance, settlers were helped to build bench terraces, of eyebrow terraces, access roads and dams. A wide range of fruit trees was planted, while leucaena and Honduran Pine were planted on the steepest land as conservation forest

The idea was to provide improved income, long-term security and to involve the new settlers in sustainable production techniques. Considerable progress has been made: people in Grenada are increasingly aware of the need for food self-sufficiency and import-substitution; more locally produced foods are available in markets and for the thriving tourist industry; and surplus fruit is processed for jams, jellies and confectionery.

There has been a deliberate policy to choose young people as new settlers and there is no shortage of applicants: there are 30-40 applicants for each farm that becomes available, of whom 80%-90% are in the 25-30 age group.

Dominica diversifies

Similar success has been achieved in Dominica, where the main plantation crops were banana and limes. Again, these remain the major crops on the small farms that have been carved from the big estates. Where banana still offers a good return, some far" mers continue to specialize in the crop, but others have diversified into vegetables and tubers for the local market, ginger for export and also flowers such as ginger lily. In the drier south of the island limes were and remain the major crop but, because of the depressed price over several years, farmers settled here have diversified and grow passion fruit, Aloe vera and forage grasses for feeding to one or two milk cows and 10-15 sheep and goats. Some farmers are also keeping one or two breeding pigs.

However, land redistribution is seldom sufficient when carried out in isolation, so in Grenada and Dominica, new farmers have been provided with technical advice and assistance with marketing their crops. In Dominica the marketing of new crops has been well developed through the Dominican Export and Import Agency, DEXIA (See Spore N°20). There is a processing facility for limes on the island and a factory for coconut products, such as oil and soap. Aloe vera, a low-growing, succulent plant that thrives on dry, porous soils, is purchased by the Windward Island Aloe Company and is used in a wide range of cosmetics and body-care products. All these marketing intitiatives have resulted in firm markets, increased local employment and added value to products, to the benefit of farmers and the national economy.

Integrated development

Credit has also played an important role in developing the small-farmer economy in Dominica, as has the construction of feeder roads into previously inaccesible parts of the island. The United Nations lnternational Fund for Agricultural Development has assisted by providing funds for credit while IFAD and the European Development Fund have financed access roads. It is clearly evident that without an integrated approach of technical advice, credit, availability of inputs, access roads and marketing, land redistribution alone would not have had the desired impact and might even have resulted in stagnant production, frustration and a decline in standards of soil and water conservation.

The future of cotton in Africa: .Scientists look ahead

The challenge for research Is to find solutions which are economically viable and also provide Improved crop protection. Research scientist,heads of development agencies, representatives of the agro-chemical industry - all links in the chain of African cotton production- met in Lome, Togo, in February 1989 under the aegis of IRCT (Institut de Recherche du Coton et des Textiles exotiques) for the first conference to be held on cotton research in Africa. Cotton-growing, which has made spectacular progress over the last 30 years, has to expand still further, given the drop in cotton prices on the international market and the more exacting requirements of the buyers. This was the main message to the producer countries from those engaged in research.

For a long time an increase in the fibre yield has been seen as the prime objective. The selection of varieties has pushed production levels to an average of more than 1000kg/ ha in West Africa and a ginning yield of 40%. But, although higher productivity is still a factor, technological demands and the constraints of market surplus now favour a drive towards quality rather than quantity.

Quality: the major objective

Production is divided at present between two spinning processes. Traditional spinning on "rings" tends now to be used solely for high-quality (combed) cottons which have to be both extremely long and durable. The so-called "open end" process is much quicker, and is used only with short, fine, strong fibres which leave no waste. Research scientists are now trying to obtain varieties with fibres geared specifically to these two processes. The manufacturing standards will become more and more demanding and subject to frequent checks by buyers with "chain measures", which can effect a rapid analysis of the fibres. Africa, which already enjoys a good brand image, must now strive for the rarer top-of the-range cottons, if the best prices are to be achieved.

Some plant breeders prefer "landless cotton whose seeds contain no gossypol glands. Glanded cottons seeds are toxic to human beings and to monogastric animals while seeds of "landless cotton can be used in poultry and pig-feed as they are rich in protein; they can also help make up protein deficiency when fed to small children in the form of flour. Both African and European laboratory experiments prove that these seeds have a high nutritional value. Today new varieties are available which give the same fibre yields as the classic cottons, and yet fulfil the same agronomic conditions. When these become more widespread the value of cotton production will be greatly increased.

Intensification of production is vital if yields are to rise: reduced production costs, which at present are higher than the selling price, would run counter to the recommendations of researchers. For ten years or so now the use of fertilizer has remained static at about 150-200 kg/ha, but a short fallow period would entail increased applications of fertilizer in order to maintain soil fertility. In some cases fertilizer levels would have to be doubled.

But for the peasant farmers a rise in the amount of fertilizer used scarcely seems justified in view of the current market price of cotton. So, research is being carried out to find cheaper solutions to renew soil fertility - such as a closer integration between agriculture and stock-rearing.

On the other hand, farmers have been quick to appreciate the effectiveness of herbicides, and their use is on the increase. Weed control at the beginning and end of the cropping cycle results in considerable increases in yield.

Pesticides should be used to best effect

Pest and dissease control in cotton was the subject of nearly half the papers delivered at the Lome conference, but the same problems continue to occur. Most cotton fields benefit from the application of crop protection chemicals, but farmers are adhering less and less to the number of sprayings recommended by scientists, because pesticldes are expensive.

Scientists are now being asked to come up with answers which will give the best possible crop protection for less cost. The combination of two types of insecticide pyrethroids and an organo-phosphorous compounds - is already in general use and has resulted in lower doses which produce less insecticide resistance in the pests. Economies can also be made if the instructions are adapted to particular situations and a strict check is made on growth in pest numbers. Other solutions being studied include a reduction in the number of applications, in the dosage, or in the active constituents. First results suggest that a new spraying method which uses products which emulsify in water at ten litres/ha is more effective against certain pests, is less expensive, and easier to use for the farmers.

The use of lintless and treated seeds when sowing may be another way forward. These seeds keep well and germinate better because they are both mould and pest-free.

This meeting resulted in the establishment of an African Cotton Network whose main objectives are to facilitate exchanges of information and material, and training and travel of scientists in various countries.

Credit where it is due

In Spore N° 12, Dr Mohammed Yunus, described how the founding of the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh had helped to stimulate the very poor to develop self-reliance through group credit and the setting up of small business enterprises. The UN International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) has played a major role in providing funds for the Grameen Bank and is also involved in providing rural credit in Africa, as Bahman Mansuri, IFAD's Africa Division Director outlines.

The Sahelian countries of Africa, like Bangladesh in Asia, have a history of climatic disasters and an inheritance of poverty greater than most parts of the world. If these cou ntries are to survive, let alone develop, the resources of the people must be engaged: sustainable prosperity, like sustainable development, must come from the grass-roots and one of the greatest challenges is how to help the very poor to help themselves. Mali is one of Africa's very poorest nations, often cursed by drought and pest attack. Farmers need extra funds to help them realize their potential to grow more food but loans to people who have no security or collateral to offer are not considered a risk worth taking by most banks. Provision of credit and its recovery in a cost effective manner remains one of the major obstacles for the development of smallholder sector.

The Segou region of central Mali, 150 miles north-east of the capital Bamako is typical: agricultural production is constantly threatened and reduced by the short growing season and by poor soil fertility. The land needs preparation at the right time, and this demands the use of draught animals. But the villagers of the Segou, are for the most part, so poor that keeping animals is beyond their reach. Their subsistence farming consists of cultivating a little millet, sorghum, fonio and cowpea, and some vegetables. Only the better-off can afford cattle. Illiteracy is al most total. Since 1985, however, this vicious cycle of need has been broken. A Village Development Fund Project (VDFP) of $9.18 million was set up by IFAD (International Fund for Agricultural Development) as the result of an initiative in 1982, and is already benefiting 85 of the very Door 439 villagges in the Segou.

Loans to projects generated in the villages are channelled through the Banque Nationale de Developpement Agricole (BNDA) of Mali, at the recommendation of village credit committees whose members are elected by the villagers and trained by the project. The annual rate of interest is fixed at 10% and the loan is repaid over a five-year period. The applications from villagers have to be approved by the whole village community, which then becomes responsible for guaranteeing repayment. The community has to put down 10% of the value of the loan, as does the VDFP, and this serves as security for the loan. The average loan is about $350, and is used mainly for buying draught animals so that the land under cultivation is extended. There is scope within the Project for direct short-term credit to provide for seasonal inputs and the marketing of crops. Interest earned on loans from the Village Fund is ploughed back into the fund itself, and 2.5% of th e interest earn ed on credit f rom the BNDA is collected by the villagers as rem uneration for assisting the bank in the recovery of its medium-term credit.

The project has also successfully launched a functional literacy programme which permits widespread farmer training in primary health, basic hygiene and nutrition, as well as midwife training. In addition, training is organized for paraextension workers who are resident in the village and work directly with farmers in diffusion of technologies while acting as feedback agents for the project'stechnical package.

The active involvement of the rural population in its own development is one of the great strengths of the VDF Project. By building on the traditional village organization, it creates village funds to attract village savings and to direct them towards productive investment and community welfare. Loans can also be made to help people diversify from agriculture, and so decrease dependence in times of drought. Schemes which have been approved and funded include setting up village shops, pharmacies, poultry farming and smallstock raising.

For the first time in Mali farmers organizations under this project, following a successful competition with private traders, will be supplying 4000 tonnes in 1988/89 to the national cereals marketing board (OPAM), which represents one third of the replenishment of Mali's national security stock. Concerns for environmental protection are also reflected in the project implementation. This is done by way of reafforestation and also through utilization at household level, of energy-saving, improved stoves.

As many classically patterned projects have fallen short of their objectives, the concept of "integrated" development has been progressively abandoned. However, a major lesson from the Segou Village Development Fund is that what has failed is not the principle of integration, but the way such integration is often managed, without effective participation of beneficiaries.

Further village funds like the one in the Segou district of Mali are at the moment being established by IFAD in Guinea under the Fouta Djallon Agricultural Rehabilitation Project, and are being contemplated in Niger.

The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily those of CTA.