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Social relations and agricultural development

In this context. Africa finds itself showered with advice from all quarters to apply the social forms of agricultural production that have historically accompanied the development of capitalism. It is alleged that these forms would make possible the provision of a basic calorie intake for all cheaply, an unprecedented increase in the volume of output and the mobilization of an agricultural surplus for industrial investment. They thus offer the example of a successful integration of agriculture into overall development. One is led to believe, writes C'. Servolin, 'that this model of agricultural policy is the only one that has succeeded throughout past and present history, the only one whose adoption can be recommended to developing countries'.24

But, apart from the fact these forms imposed themselves only after agrarian structures had been evolving for two centuries - the first agricultural revolution dates from the 1 8th century, the second and more decisive one from the 1950s the conditions that favoured their realization quite clearly do not exist in Africa. In Western Europe the process of restructuring the rural areas around the farms best suited by their economic scale and their size went on for over a century, a process favouring a concentration of production in the hands of a certain type of 'achieving' farmer capable of developing production for the market. The others, the majority of small peasants, gradually had to stop working their best situated farms.25

For reasons as much economic (protection of local agriculture) as political (as a counterweight to the growing working class), the disintegration of the peasantry was curbed in many countries, except for Britain where the process of expelling the majority of the peasantry was carried out with all its well known brutality. By the 19th century, the rural population already accounted for scarcely one-third of the total labour force. Generally speaking, only after the Second World War, in the early 1950s, did agricultural policies begin to favour a stepping-up of the movement to modernize agriculture.

Industry was by then in a position to provide massive quantities of all the mechanical, chemical and biochemical means necessary for a rapid growth of agricultural productivity. As M. Mazoyer stresses, modern industry, which provides the mechanical, chemical, energy and civil engineering means, plays a considerable role in the establishment of new agricultural systems; 'moreover, the elimination of the peasant economy is carried out in conditions that are consistent with industrial development which avoids brutal ruptures and generalized crises'. There is consistency in two senses, since the rate at which agricultural producers are removed continues to be related to the creation of jobs outside agriculture and, conversely, the transformation of equipment makes it possible to increase the efficiency of agricultural labour.

The relative fall in the price of agricultural foodstuffs consequent upon the rapid improvement in labour productivity thus makes it possible to limit the proportion of household expenditure on food in favour of expenditure on manufactured goods. This model of 'agricultural modernization, benefited from specific conditions that Third World countries cannot reproduce today. The movement of the rural population into non-agricultural activities rested on sustained industrial expansion.

In addition, from the second half of the 19th century to the end of the Second World War, 40 million Europeans moved, for example, to America, Australia, New Zealand.26 In 40 years (1860-1900) there were 14 million new arrivals in the United States, of whom Europeans were the vast majority: 86.5% of immigrants in 1860; 58.1% in 1880; 73.4% in 1890; 86.2% in 1900.27

This meant that in most West European countries, from the second half of the 19th century, the agricultural population fell in absolute numbers making it possible to increase the size of farms and improve farm area per worker. Finally, the European population growth rate was in no way comparable to that of African countries. Population growth did not exceed 1.5% to 2% throughout the 19th century. as against 3 to 3.4% in Africa and even 4% in Kenya, and, in contrast to a downward trend in the birth rate in China. Brazil or Indonesia. which can be observed today, Africa's still shows no sign of peaking.

In spite of the very high urban expansion of recent years, the agricultural population has continued to rise, leading to a marked deterioration in the available land/population ratio in those countries without further large areas of land to bring into cultivation.

The FAO's report on the potential of land in Africa reveals very high agricultural densities in a number of countries (350 per km2 of agricultural land in Rwanda, for example) which will have to cope with a serious land shortage. Even the best endowed countries (the Ivory Coast. Sudan, Nigeria) are seeing their cultivable land diminish rapidly following the mechanization of farming or the adoption of new forms of cultivation,28 as well as ecological changes due to massive deforestation. Over the last two decades the Ivory Coast has cut down over 7,000,000 hectares of forest, and soil deterioration is leading many people to extend their crops to ecologically fragile regions and to shorten or eliminate fallow periods, thus further contributing to rapid deterioration of the soil. According to the UN world desertification map, 43% of the land in Africa that is not already desert is threatened with becoming so.29

As the Economic Commission for Africa stresses, probably in future. in a majority of African countries, the rural population will be faced with an almost disastrous shortage of cultivable land. and whole families will have to subsist on scarcely one hectare.30 The question of how to modernize agriculture must fundamentally be posed in relation to the crucial problem of employment and the need to find a permanent solution to it.

It is a fact that the type of industrialization introduced in most African countries has only rarely absorbed a significant fraction of the available labour force. It is equally likely that the pursuit of current development policies will not lead to more non-agricultural employment on such a scale as to slow down the growth of the economically active agricultural population. Agriculture thus finds itself in a situation of retaining all or part of the additional numbers of workers entering the labour market each year. African economies must both create more jobs in agriculture and increase net output per worker.

In that situation, the issue is not, as in the capitalist pattern of agriculture, one of seeking to expand production through the gradual removal of the economically active agricultural population, but, on the contrary, of expanding employment and stepping up exploitation of all agricultural natural resources.

What social forms of organizing production are best suited to a rational and intensive use of space and labour? This question is vital in dry farming countries where the scale of the tasks of soil conservation and improvement requires strict social discipline at all levels of agricultural activity. What is needed is a process of 'ecological reconstruction'. Experience shows that peasants individually cannot undertake such tasks nor integrate the conditions of long-term reproduction into their everyday activities. The individual smallholding system can, in Erik Eckholm's words, lead only to a 'suicidal use of the land', with the peasants seeking to ward off declining soil fertility and the consequences of erosion with even wider destruction of the natural environment. What is required, therefore. is a large-scale reorganization of agricultural work through co-operation between producers in order to avoid the negative phenomena of land concentration and soil destruction. In countries with a relative scarcity of cultivable land such an evolution would soon lead to a blocking of the productive forces by the minority that held a monopoly over landownership.

Unfortunately, the notion of co-operation has been largely discredited in Africa by the way states have used it. Co-operatives have usually served as a means of authoritarian organization of the peasantry and have sometimes (as in Senegal, Mali, Tanzania) been envisaged as a reformist alternative to socialism. But past errors must not be allowed completely to condemn cooperative living as a democratic framework in which peasant producers can organize and express themselves. The development of co-operation remains, however, closely subordinated to the capacity of political forces to embark on a real process of social transformation, in particular to revamp rural social structures and institute a new distribution of power. Failing such a programme. the evolution of agriculture, under the effect of the laws of the market and monetization of the rural economy, will lead to the impoverishment of the majority of the peasantry excluded from access to the means of agricultural modernization.

The policies introduced to stem the agricultural crisis already give a glimpse of the development of a dualistic dynamic of agrarian structures. The raising of agricultural prices and the concessions granted to promote production have the effect of strengthening the groups that already have the most resources and the largest amount of land and which can take on wage labour: in other words they promote big farmers working for the market and capable of more efficient production. They also favour the penetration of speculative urban capital attracted by the inducements and prospects of quick, high profits. There are numerous reports pointing in this direction.

Many surveys show that projects initiated by governments have rather benefited a minority in which the urban elites, businessmen, bureaucrats or retired soldiers were the majority.31 At the same time, in some countries, aid to small-scale subsistence agriculture, which is finding it increasingly hard to sustain itself, has been abolished. The new agricultural strategies rest rather on the groups with the capacity to increase commercial production and improve the supply of food to the towns.

It is today clear, after over two decades of experience, that export-led growth, whether the exports be of agricultural or mineral products, has not led to the construction of an autonomous basis of accumulation that would make the pursuit of development possible. Most African countries are unable to maintain employment at its previous levels and it even seems that a process of de-industrialization and economic decline is underway. There can be no solution to the external development crisis because no external development dynamic has been created. The most pronounced trend consists in yielding to the pressures of the world market and seeking greater integration into the capitalist economy in order to safeguard the interests of dominant groups. In order to compensate for the fall in external receipts, African countries are seeking to increase their exports, usually by restricting the consumption of the mass of the population rather than by embarking on mobilizing resources and labour to the benefit of the local market.

The example of Cuba's development shows that the essential problem lies in social control of the surplus realized from exports. Being open to external markets remains indispensable if speeding up the modernization and development of the productive forces through imports of equipment and technology is desired. But in African countries, the economic surplus derived from exports contributes mostly to increasing and diversifying the consumption of the ruling classes through the importation and local assembly of new products. Openness to the outside world makes it easy to fill the gaps in local production and leads to neglect of the development of activities that are yet essential for the establishment of economic equilibria.

The mobilization of external resources for development implies, however, a consistent accumulation strategy that necessarily involves a complete overhaul of the price system. Delinking, as Samir Amin points out, does not mean autarky, but the construction of a price system on the basis of the law of national value.32 Clearly the inherited price system was organized to assist accumulation in the home countries in order to ensure the functioning of the colonial system. After the restructuring of the world economy and the direct integration of the colonial countries into the general movement of capital, the domestic price system conformed even more closely to the development needs of the productive forces of the dominant countries.

For this reason, in the long run, the prices that have relatively fallen least are those of agricultural machinery, wheat prices falling faster than those of equipment. This price ratio is, of course, central to the process of the concentration of production, land and capital in the industrialized countries of the North. Transferred to the countries of the Third World, through import prices, agricultural equipment prices are rising much faster than those of locally produced cereals and thus tend to hinder the diffusion of technological progress in agriculture (animal-drawn farming for example).

Finally, emerging from the crisis will inevitably involve gaining control of the local market and articulating industrial and agricultural development. Gaining control requires removal of the bottlenecks that hamper the processing of such local products as millet, sorghum, yams and so on (processing them into flour) which would make possible and facilitate the storage, processing, distribution and consumption of local products. Experiments in this area have been made in, for example. Senegal, Nigeria, Sudan, the Ivory Coast, aimed at using blended flours incorporating local cereals for making bread, modernizing the process of preparing cassava (in the Congo) for making cassava bread and cassava couscous. Industry should thus ensure the promotion of technological methods to process local products, notably maize, which has a very large production potential in Africa (maize chips). Numerous industrial processes can thus develop downstream from production for the treatment of by-products (oil-mills, cotton, coffee) and meat.


1. A. Basler, 'L'agriculture d'éxportation en Afrique et les repercussions pour la production vivrière: un essai d'évolution', Economie rurale, No 173, May-June 1986.

2. J. Alibert. 'Problèmes socio-économiques de l'autosuffisance et de l'alimentation des villes en Afrique Noire'. Afrique contemporaine. No 140, 1986.

3. Yabice Kinimo. 'Autosuffisance alimentaire en Côte d'Ivoire: paradoxe ou réalisme socio-économique', Economie rurale, No 175, September-October 1986. See also M. A. Savané and P. Cappagne. 'Quel avenir pour les nouvelles strategies alimentaires des paysanneries du Sahel', Economie et société Cahier de l'ISMEA, July 1975.

4. 'It is conditional aid, rather than contractual aid, which must commit the receiving country to respect the targets and the discipline that they have set in formulating food strategies.'

5. 'In most countries trade liberalization enhances the role of private traders in the exchange of food products. Nevertheless, this shift involves risks that some well placed groups will organize so as to exercise a monopoly over the cereal market'. Mise en oeuvre des strategies alimentaires et perspectives d'avenir. EEC. Rome, Brussels, April 1986.

6. See 'La lettre de Sologral'. No 14, January-February 1987.

7. See J.-P. Foissy. 'L'évolution de la Côte d'Ivoire (1960-85)'. Problèmes Economiques, No 1987.27 August 1986.

8. The Stare of World Food and Agriculture. FAO, Rome 1983. Africa's agricultural trade balance witnessed 'e switch from a small surplus [in 1981] to a deficit of over $2,000 million'. A. Basler, 'Exportations agricoles et deficit alimentaire en Afrique', Economie rurale, No 173. May-June 1986. 'In 1975 it took 200 kg of cotton seeds for one plough, by 1980 it took twice as much.'

9. In 1985, sweeteners made from maize represented half the total caloric sweeteners consumed in the USA. Sugar has been almost eliminated in the production of drinks. Protectionism to ensure a high price for sugar has encouraged the use of isoglucose. IFRI (1985).

10. M. Marloie, L'Internationalisation de l'agriculture française, Economie et Humanisme. Paris 1984.

11. 'Did not the exorbitant cost of servicing the Ivorian external debt of 380 million FCFA for 1983, equal to 36% of export receipts, have its origin in paying for the sugar plan?' See S. Michailof. Les apprentis sorciers du développement, Economica, 1984.

12. Africa is the continent with the lowest industrial production despite the relative industrial advance of some countries. While the share of developing countries in world industrial production was some 11.9% in 1984, for Africa it was only 1% for a population accounting for 10% of the world total.

13. 'When incomes rise following a sharp rise in exports of primary products, a large proportion of it will be spent, not on industrial goods but on food, especially in poor countries.' A. Hirschman, Vers une économie politique élargie, Editions de Minuit, Paris 1986, p. 43.

14. A. Basler. 'L'agriculture d'exportation...' op, cit.

15. Land rent set at 65 cents per hectare (1979), wide access to subsidized credit, financing of large farms by the surplus obtained.

16. For smallholdings see Uma Lele, Clara Else. Hailu Mekonnen, 'Pays d'Afrique socialistes et a economic de masché: difference entre les politiques en matière de prix agricoles et la commercialisation des produits agricoles', mimeo document for the World Bank Seminar on Economic Reforms. Paris, 2 August 1985.

17. See Joseph Casas, 'La stratégie agro-alimentaire de Cuba depuis 1959 et ses résultats', in 'Politiques et strategies alimentaires', Economie et société,. Cahiers de l'ISMEA. No 18. July 1985, PUF. Grenoble.

18. To use P, de Bernis' words: 'L'économie algérienne depuis l'indépendance'. Annuaire de l'Afrique du Nord, 1972

19. Thomas G. Rawski. Croissance et emploi en Chine, World Bank, Economica 1979.

20. Criticisms of industrialization in Algeria have been particularly sharp and numerous, in contrast to the paucity of relatively well-documented studies and objective criteria to assess the results. Thus, for example, industry can be criticized simultaneously for being too capital-intensive and for depriving agriculture of manpower.

21. Celso Furtado, Non a la recession, non au chômage. Anthropos 1985.

22. See G. Myrdal. 'Paths of development'. New Left Review, No 36. 1986, pp. 65-74.

23. De Bernis, op, cit.. p. 20.

24. Claude Servolin, 'Les politiques agricoles', in Traité de science politique, Vol. 4. PUF 1985.

25. In France, for example, while over half the farms disappeared between 1892 and 1955, the rate of disappearances accelerated and there was a rapid concentration of Capital after 1960. Between 1950 and 1979, the number of farms of 50 - 100 hectares rose from 75,000 to 114,000, and of those over 100 hectares from 20,000 to 35.000. In 1979, farms over 50 hectares occupied over 13 million hectares or 45%, of the cultivable area.

26. G. Tapinos. L'économie des migrations internationales, Armand Colin 1983

27. André Kospi. Les Américains, vol. I 'Naissance et essor des Etats-Unis 1607-1945', Seuil. Paris 1986. See also Yves Henri Nouailhat, 'Evolution économique des USA du milieu du XIXe siècle a 1914'. Paris Cedex 004 1982, pp. 10-11.

28. In Nigeria 'the traditional tenure system gradually decayed under the impact of population pressure, the exodus of young people and the fragmentation of land inherited through the patrilineal system. The increase in the amount of land leasing and selling eroded communal mechanisms of controlling and managing land. The principal criticisms of this system are made by advocates of the modernization of agriculture: according to them the most successful farmers must be able to have access to more land and to have a right of ownership to protect their investment.' Johnny Egg, 'Agriculture du Nigeria', INRA MT, November 1985.

29. See also 'La CEA et le développement de l'Afrique', 1983 United Nations, New York April 1983. Terres vives et population, FAO 1983.

30. Le Monde Diplomatique, May 1985.

31. See International Institute for Social Studies/OAU Addis Ababa, 'Comment parvenir a l'autosuffisance: essais et difficultés au Senegal au Ghana et en Tanzanie'; C. Feliu, 'Evolution et diversité des politiques alimentaires', in Politique alimentaire et structures sociales en Afrique Noire. IEDES 1985.

32. Samir Amin, La Déconnexion, La Découverte, Paris 1986.

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