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3. Food self-sufficiency: Crisis of the collective ideology

The Lagos plan of action: A critique
World bank 'counter-plan'
The United Nations' plan (PPERA)
Food self-sufficiency strategies: Problems of implementation

Bernard Founou-Tchuigoua

The 1970s was the decade when the African bourgeoisies became aware of the need to ensure their food self-sufficiency and were faced with the dual risk of the use of the food weapon by the large-surplus countries and precipitous falls in production consequent upon a cycle of drought for example. The embargo on the sale of American wheat to the USSR acted as catalyst. The World Food Conference, whose goal was to de-dramatize the situation, stressed the need for worldwide solidarity on food issues and made symbolic gestures. But gradually the idea came to be accepted that food security in Africa's conditions must be ensured through the development of national food policies. A few countries adopted national plans for food self-sufficiency. Thus, in 1976, faced with the collapse of its agriculture. Nigeria launched a programme with the slogan 'Feed the Nation'. Aid-giving institutions in the states of the Centre became interested in the development of African food agriculture.1 The doctrines and policies of food self-sufficiency were, however, strictly national in character (the struggle for a New International Economic Order, and even the doctrine of Collective Self-reliance, were rather quiet about the area of food and agriculture). But as agriculture deteriorated and the burden of food aid and purchases of food products weighed heavily in the balance of payments, ideas inspired by the theory of unequal development and the need for autocentred development gained ground. According to that theory, development from a peripheral position implies delinking and the development of South-South co-operation; reservations about the concept of autocentred development began to dissolve. In 1980, this shift culminated in the OAU's adoption of the famous Lagos Plan of Action, at the first Economic Summit, for which the realization of food self-sufficiency was the highest priority. Simultaneously, however, the ideological crisis began. It was reflected in 1986 in the same OAU's adoption of the Priority Plan for the Economic Recovery of Africa (PPERA) which is the negation of the principles of the Lagos Plan of Action, in that it gives an excessive place to external aid.2

This chapter is concerned to bring out the meaning and stages of this retreat and to propose an explanation based on the agro-food policies of the capitalist states of the Centre.

The Lagos plan of action: A critique

Of several possible readings of the Lagos Plan of Action I shall mention three.

The first considers that it is essentially ideological in content, or the outcome of an exercise in rhetoric. It would then be necessary to oppose it with a more 'scientifically' formulated document: one with no obvious political or ideological content. Furthermore, it is alleged that the language used is too Third Worldist. This is the Western viewpoint expressed in the World Bank report, for which the quest for the autonomy of the agro-food system does not promote development, but on the contrary hampers it, since it involves using resources in a way that does not maximize 'world welfare'.

The second reading consists in considering the Lagos Action Plan as an interesting document but one that should be consigned to the archives, since there are no social forces to demand its implementation. On the contrary, the crisis is pushing governments to go deep in debt rather than to implement the World Bank's programme.

My reading consists in examining the Plan with a critical eye and considering it as a step on the road to the formulation of objectives and strategies that respond to Africa's needs. The Plan presents the achievement of food self-sufficiency as an aspect of a global strategy of autocentred development. The preamble recalls that, in Africa, the principal feature of the crisis of economic development (and not only of growth) is integration into the capitalist system as a periphery for several centuries. The priority given to agricultural development is largely justified by historical experience and by theory. This point is important: it is what led to placing such hopes in the Lagos Plan despite its gaps and contradictions. To the extent that it has now been practically abandoned, it must be asked if it has fallen victim to its own weaknesses. The drafters used the concept of the strategy of food self-sufficiency in a very narrow sense, since it excluded: gaining control of the food agro-culture system; and problems of securing autonomous financing, industrialization and the accelerated development of a technological base necessary for food agriculture. In addition, the diagnosis ignored the problem of the distribution of the product during either the colonial or the post-colonial period. In particular, the economic and political relations that, in general, make super-exploitation of the peasants and rural dwellers possible, to the benefit of a small domestic minority (urban and rural) and the nations in the Centre, and not of industrialization or of the towns in general, are not spelled out. Consequently, the means advocated to achieve recovery remained very vague; in these circumstances, it was easy to predict the achievement of self-sufficiency between 1980 and 1985. Even this objective, limited though it was, was not attained but rather became more remote. For, in addition to technical weaknesses, the Lagos Plan of Action presupposed that another condition was fulfilled - that every African state has the social capacity (historical legitimacy) and the technical capacity (institutions, well-trained, nationalist and critical intelligentsia) to carry through a policy of food self-sufficiency inspired either by the Chinese or by the Indian model. But the states whose leaders effectively enjoyed historical legitimacy did not delink enough to initiate true agricultural revolutions.

World bank 'counter-plan'

The Lagos Plan, despite its omissions, marks an important date in the struggle of ideas in Africa. The theory of autocentred development that presupposes national control of the economy won a great victory over ultra-liberalism, which is why, in 1981, the World Bank published a sort of counter-plan.3 Obviously, behind the Bank must be seen the leading countries of the Centre, notably the United States of America, which are laying down the path to be followed. According to the ultra-liberal thesis defended in the World Bank document, food self-sufficiency is not a scientific concept but a politico-ideological one; it derives from nationalism and not from economic analysis, which teaches that the law of comparative advantage is the best guide in food matters as it is in other areas of economic activity.

According to the Bank, it is because African economies failed to apply this principle that they are in crisis; the post-colonial states had an industrialization policy, but it was one that extracted too large a surplus from the peasantry.4 The impact of this strategic orientation on the development crisis was seen as much greater than that of 'world market forces'. If super-exploitation of the peasantry, notably through the price mechanism, had not led to industrialization, it was due to protectionism by means of fiscal and tariff privileges, over-valuation of currencies and finally a mistrust of capital that leads the state to become a necessarily inefficient entrepreneur.

The food problem is presented exclusively in its economic form in the neo-classical sense of the term. For the Bank, each African state must specialize so that the optimum allocation of its resources procures it the highest possible level of income. This allocation consists in giving priority to producing what can be developed, first under private initiative and second without protectionism, according to the doctrine adopted by Reagan that was then currently being applied in the United States.

The Bank also exploited the second major shortcoming of the Lagos Plan: its ambiguity on the role of international official assistance. It went on to lay particular stress on the need to double this assistance in real terms between 1980 and 1990, despite elsewhere registering surprise that previous assistance had not contributed to increasing food output.5 This invitation to Western governments to step up their assistance was to work in favour of the advocates of ultra-liberalism.

Numerous seminars were devoted to the Bank's plan, whereas the Lagos Plan of Action lacked the means to become widely known, but the African intelligentsia, while holding the Bank plan to be useful for its empirical data, rejected its approach as neo-colonial. Initially, African states also treated the Bank's plan with suspicion. The fact that it was rejected by a Council of Ministers (but adopted by the Central Bank Governors) shows how much pressure had to be exerted (notably on states urgently needing to reschedule their external debts) to secure its acceptance. But the two problematics could not be allowed to coexist: the Lagos Plan of Action's, which cannot be put into effect without planning and hence the state playing a key role, and the World Bank's, which is incompatible with the concept of planning and presupposes no discrimination between national capital and foreign capital. On the specific level of food, the contrast was total.

The United Nations' plan (PPERA)

Finally, the contradiction (at the level of the problematic and not reality, of course) was resolved by the OAU's adoption at the July 1985 Summit of the five-year(1986-90) programme PPERA.

According to the authors' summary of the document, it is articulated around the following five measures:

1. Implementation of the Lagos Plan of Action and Final Act in an updated form.

2. Improvement of the food situation and rehabilitation of agriculture.

3. Alleviating the external debt burden.

4. Action against the effects of the destabilization policy of South Africa on the economies of southern African States.

5. Measures for a common platform of action at sub-regional, regional, continental and international levels.

It could be portrayed as a stage in the implementation of the Lagos Plan. One may have one's doubts. It may be thought closer to the World Bank's problematic. On the one hand, industrialization is no longer considered as a priority and, on the other, a special solemnity is given to recourse to external assistance. It is, in fact, a programme for the recovery and development of African agriculture and not of food agriculture. It proposes priority for agriculture, not for food crops. It proposes raising productivity without industrialization: thus virtually all the proposed financing ($116 billion out of $120bn) is for agriculture strictly so-called (42.2% of the total), infrastructure supporting agriculture (44.1% of the total), developing associated human resources (2.1 %) and finally the struggle against desertification (5%). Nothing is proposed for industry!

This distribution of resources is inevitably surprising in a plan whose successful implementation formally relies on 30% external funding (and above all Official External Aid); 'formally' since among the own resources (70%), the Plan includes aid already obtained and aid promised. It is surprising because only 5% is devoted to the fight against desertification whereas in my opinion the bulk of external resources should be channelled towards that - most of the other programmes could be carried out with the mobilization of domestic resources, particularly human ones. The naivete in the matter of economic diplomacy is also surprising: the refusal of the 'aiders' to commit themselves solemnly at the United Nations was predictable.

In reality, it is all as if the principle of self-reliance which appeared alongside the request for aid in the Lagos Plan of Action is giving way to the principle of 'partnership'.

In these circumstances, the fact that the Programme (PPERA) puts the accelerated implementation of the updated Lagos Plan of Action as the first measure to be taken ought not to deceive anyone. There has been a move from a stage marked by a coherent voluntaristic doctrine to one marked by the coherence imposed by alleged economic laws said to operate without the intervention of nation-states endowed with unequal powers, the most powerful of which resist the action of economic laws, notably in their external relations.

In addition, does not the United Nations' PPERA threaten to act as a mechanism to divide the Third World, in that, coming after the World Bank's accelerated development programme, it can be taken up by those forces seeking to isolate Africa from the rest of the Third World? In my view, special action to help African states, and especially the poorest, can be taken in the framework of existing structures within the UN system to help the least developed countries. It must be noted that, while the PPERA formally concerns all OAU member states, in reality it deals above all with the problems of sub-Saharan Africa where 25 countries are among the 36 'least developed countries' (LDCs); and the fact is that a structure already exists for dealing with these countries' problems.

It was in 1968 that the 'international community' acknowledged that special international measures were necessary to deal with the real economic and social difficulties of the least developed countries' situation and improve their peoples' extremely low living standards.

In 1972, the Third UNCTAD Conference adopted the first resolution including the whole set of special measures in favour of these countries. UNCTAD held several meetings on this issue. 'Despite these efforts, during the 1970s, the least developed countries were lagging further and further behind and in many cases, regressing.'

The 1981 UN Conference in Paris adopted the 'Substantial New Programme of Action for the 1980s' in favour of the least developed countries for the 1980s. The key objectives were: 1) to make possible the transformation of these countries to put them on the path of self-sustaining development; 2) to enable them to meet some at least of the minimum international standards in nutrition, health, education, transport, marketing and housing, as well as employment opportunities for all citizens and, in particular, for poor peasants; 3) to induce the 'international community' to look upon it as a duty to provide substantial assistance to meet these targets and to do so to complement the national effort.6 The approach at this Paris conference or any other organization need not have singled out Africa and would have been more interesting psychologically.7

In short, in the space of a few years, we have witnessed a sharp ideological shift from nationalism to neo-liberalism and the risk of a weakening of the Southern front from Africa.

The agro-industrial and financial policies of the EC and the United States involve a degree of open anti-Third Worldism. Inevitably, their productivism at any price and the aggressiveness of trade policy have uniformly negative effects on African agriculture. The way packages are sold to African states on credit from Centre states, after quick feasibility and profitability studies by Western consultants, paid for through bilateral or multilateral gifts, is too well-known to be repeated here. Suffice it to say that since the mid-1950s, related to the technological revolution in agriculture that has obliged states in the North to think in terms not of agricultural policies but of agro-food system policies, the goals of food self-sufficiency have been rapidly achieved in Europe, thus at least partially closing-off access to that market to North American products. Competition, notably in cereals, was raging in the world market. By means of food aid, the agro-food systems carved out markets for wheat and milk in the South. Contrary to the IMF's ultra-liberal thesis, the high price policy played a less important role in agricultural policies designed to achieve self-sufficiency than did credit and subsidies. As the French example shows, the prices of agricultural products remained very stable for over 30 years, as did the prices of intermediate consumption goods for agriculture (Table 3.1), while the productivity of agricultural labour rose fivefold!

Table 3.1
France: comparison of production prices and prices of intermediate consumption goods (1970 = 100)

  1959 1970 1971 1972 1973 1975 1976 1977 1978 1979
Deliveries 108.3 100 98.8 106.1 109.1 98.3 100.8 92.2 93.5 90.3
I.C. 115.2 100 101.2 99.2 104.3 112.1 108.0 108.3 104.4 103.8

The fact is, that the credits and subsidies make it possible to put agriculture and agricultural enterprises more firmly under the control of big industry, the banks and big business that dominate the state. This subordination makes possible a more effective production-oriented agricultural policy than that of incentives through the price mechanism.

Food self-sufficiency strategies: Problems of implementation

Such radical changes of doctrine in barely a single decade indicate a considerable ideological disarray, and contradictions between the historical necessity for the strategy of food self-sufficiency and the capacity of ruling classes to implement it. Among the factors that reduce this capacity only one the foodstuff policy of the Centre countries will be discussed here.

The unequal development of agriculture with a trend towards trans-nationalization of the mode of accumulation (use of techniques developed for the needs of capitalist exploitation at the monopoly stage) and models of consumption, results from the anti-South dimension of the foodstuff policies of the main Centre countries. This policy of unequal development of agricultural productive forces, combined with transnationalization, is then only one aspect of the global strategy of keeping the South underdeveloped.

That the European industrial revolution was preceded by an agricultural revolution is well-known. Since then, no country has succeeded in reversing this sequence. At most it is possible to envisage a situation of simultaneous revolutions. During this stage of agricultural revolution, the circulation of consumption goods from the peripheries towards the Centre was not insignificant,8 even though, as Bairoch shows, high transport costs constituted a natural protection for national agricultures.9 In fact transport costs were only part of the costs. When remuneration of the labour force and rent were negligible parts of value, food products could be transported over enormous distances and be competitive on metropolitan markets; this was the case with products originating from the colonies. (It should not be forgotten that while the industrial revolution happened in the 19th century, the colonial system and slave-trading regions had existed since the 16th century.) The fact that the periphery was a net exporter of food products practically right up to the Second World War is ample proof of this thesis. I have shown elsewhere the role that local edible oils played in accumulation in France and disaccumulation in Senegal.10

But demand has not followed the same pattern, despite the multinationals' unprecedented effort to encourage consumption, often misleading consumers on the quality of products. Food expenditure has fallen as a percentage of household budgets (less than 22% if beverages are excluded). It is the combined effect of the fantastic increase in productivity and the stagnation of the demand for food in the Centre, plus the unsatisfied needs in the South, that explains the accumulation policies which have led to the current agricultural surpluses (Table 3.2).

Control of accumulation through control of finance, research and development and outlets has one very important advantage over a policy built on prices. On the one hand (as Keynes had predicted for wages), in the short term, the peasants are concerned more about the appearance than about the reality of transactions. The state can thus not afford to reduce nominal prices. On the other hand, control through credit and markets can extend beyond national borders towards the periphery. This policy of a fantastic growth of agricultural productivity in the Centre resulted in raising the rate of self-sufficiency in products in the Centre just when it was stagnating in the periphery as a whole and declining in Africa.

Table 3.2
Annual average change in rate local food production covers consumption (%)

  1967-69 1970-79
World 0.5 0.6
Developed capitalist countries of which: 1.0 1.3
USA 1.4 1.9
Europe 1.2 1.3
Oceania 1.1 1.3
Developing countries of which: 0.4 0.6
Africa -1.1 -1.4

Source: UNCTAD. Handbook. 1980.

The export not only of agricultural commodities but of agro-industrial packages has become a necessity. States and TNCs combine their efforts to realize values on the Third World market. The state provides export credits, of variable duration, to realize agro-industrial projects in the South. As these are realized on the basis of credits granted to states, speculation and corruption are the order of the day. This leads to over-priced projects that often do not work. We are not thereby claiming that all projects have been catastrophes; despite the Nigerian leaders' economic errors for example, there was more accumulation in agriculture in 12 years than during 20 years of colonization, preceded by several centuries of integration into the Euro-American economy.

Eventually, the process of raising agricultural productivity in the Centre and its absolute or relative decline in Africa may eliminate the effect of unequal exchange, in the sense that, despite the super-exploitation of peasants and the environment, the cost/price ratio of food-crop production in Africa could become unfavourable compared to that of the supplying countries, and policies of food self-sufficiency inspired by the Green Revolution fail to work, while the possibilities of agrarian and agricultural revolution on the Chinese model would be increasingly problematic. This prospect of Africans wandering about and dying of hunger moves peoples, including peoples in the capitalist Centre, as the popular success of 'Ethiopia aid campaigns' shows, but it does not scare the strategists of the system on which the fate of humanity increasingly depends. Thus Senator Hubert Humphrey, later to become Vice-President of the United States, declared to the Senate in 1957: 'I have heard... that people may become dependent on us for food. I know this is not supposed to be good news. To me that was good news, because before people can do anything they have got to eat. And if you are looking for a way to get people to lean on you and to be dependent on you, in terms of their cooperation with you, it seems to me that food dependence would be terrific.'11

In fact, the Centre states are not satisfied with a policy of food self-sufficiency in commodities. They are also seeking to control the transformation of the whole agricultural foodstuff system by keeping the periphery in a situation of food and technological and/or financial dependence. In order to achieve that in the conjuncture of the deepening crisis of growth, emphasis is today put on reducing production costs by letting the law of supply and demand operate, domestically first and then externally. Application of the price principle (which results from supply and demand on a competitive market) is leading to the hardening of credit conditions, and hence bankruptcies and the concentration of agricultural capital, with, as a corollary, the reduction of agricultural workers' total wages and even the lowering of real wage rates. Efficiency is more important than accumulation.

But this New Agricultural Policy is still set in the framework of food self-sufficiency and the production of surpluses. Protectionist policies are thus still obligatory. Despite the pressures from UNCTAD, GATT and the FAO the Centre states will give it up only when the new policies have created a situation such that acceptance of free trade will not call self-sufficiency into question. Africa thus risks being increasingly submerged by these surpluses which, instead of diminishing, will rather increase.

While the capitalist Centre countries pursue food policies leading to the creation of structural food surpluses, which, as a result of the development of the world market, are increasingly threatening African food crops, the African states are dithering. Their awareness of the danger of the food weapon has not withstood the ideological counter-offensive launched by the World Bank and the IMF, in order to keep African food systems in a situation of dependence and consequently in a state of technological backwardness. Obviously, the effects of the Centre states' food policies is not the sole explanation for the turnabout by African states. There are also political factors that we have not mentioned.


1. B. Founou, 'Stratégie d'autosuffisance alimentaire au Sénégal'.

2. a) 'Over the last two decades, and at a time the African Continent is facing a rapid growth in population and urbanisation, the food and agriculture situation in Africa has undergone a drastic deterioration; food production and consumption per person has fallen below nutritional requirements... Over the period 19801985 the objective should be to bring about the immediate improvement in the food situation and to lay the foundation for the achievement of self-sufficiency in cereals and livestock and fish products.' OAU, Lagos Plan of Action. 1980.

b) 'Breathing new life into the agricultural sector would make it possible to find a solution to the worsening poverty of the people and stimulate material demand: in addition, it would make receipts possible, thus giving Africans the resources that they so much need to relaunch their economic growth.' OAU Priority Programme for the Economic Recovery of Africa. 1980.

3. The Accelerated Development in Sub-Saharan Africa: An Agenda for Action (Berg Plan), presented to Africa at the Annual Meeting of the joint Board of Directors of the IMF and the World Bank was not officially adopted by States but it has become de facto the implicit doctrinal reference point of the 'Structural Adjustment Plans' that they have adopted one after the other, as the balance of payments crisis has continued.

4. The text effectively confirms, backed by data, that African peasants have continued to be super-exploited and that that is one of the factors in food shortages and rural malnutrition. But it 'forgets' to show that the Centre nations and their TNCs play key roles in this super-exploitation.

5. 'And while land productivity is not the decisive factor for a thinly populated continent such as Africa, when growth of total food production is compared to that of the rural population, it suggests that labor productivity stagnated in the 1960s and fell in the 1970s.

What is significant is that this decline occurred over a period when the various governments and external sources of finance focused more strongly on food production projects than ever before. Between 1913 and 1980, about $5 billion in aid flowed into agriculture. $2.4 billion of which was from the World Bank. These projects have so far failed to boost output or have been offset by declines in other parts of the food economy.' World Bank. Accelerated Development in Sub-Saharan Africa. 1981.

6. UNCTAD, (The Least Developed Countries 1984 and 1985. Introduction to the Reports.

7. This is a common approach at the diplomatic level. Thus we know that the ACP is made up predominantly of countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. Despite that, the EC preferred a more neutral name.

8. I. Wallerstein, Capitalism and World Economy.

9. P. Bairoch, Révolution industrielle et sous-développement.

10. B. Founou, Les fondements de l'économie de traite au Sénégal.

11. 'The food weapon, especially in the form of aid, would then assume vast proportions. When massive food aid assumes a structural character, it has the effect of keeping in power ruling groups that are weak and incapable of initiating the process of building an autonomous national agricultural base. Reading a statement like the one by the American Secretary of State it is necessary to be clear about the meaning: nowhere does he call for the withdrawing of aid to states that cannot organize the agricultural revolution.' Susan George in How the Other Half Dies' as cited in Alaux, Crise au Nord, Faim au Sud.

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