Dec 05 2006

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 9:08 PM

“Broad-based agricultural growth centered on small farms would make deep
inroads into poverty and hunger in Africa.”
— InterAcademy Council report on African agriculture, 2004

Dec 05 2006

Afro-pessimism and Expert Assessments of African Agriculture

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 8:34 PM

Expert assessments of Africa’s agricultural potential are far too negative, rooted in low expectations of African farmers, utopian attitudes towards social change, an ignorance of the genius of private markets and an unease with global capitalism in general. One new, prominent report on the present and future of small African farmers (funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Rockefeller, both highly influential setting the intellectual and programtic agendas for agricultural reform in Africa) is typical in its pessimism about African agriculture. The authors (who will go nameless in a gesture of solidarity for their good intentions)assemble an air-tight case that many African farmers are doomed unless a whole series of highly improbable and dramatic changes occur. “Most small farms in Africa are becoming increasingly unviable as sustainable economic and social units,” the authors write. And small farmers “face a very uncertain and untenable future,” with the “brightest prospect for escape from poverty … being ‘pulled’ off the farm” and into the city. In the minds of African agriculture experts, no set of interventions, carried out by either government or the private sector, are likely to change the dire future awaiting African farmers. “In actual experience,” the authors write, “neither [government assistance or the private market] has worked very well.” Government over-promises and under-delivers, and “attempts to rely on markets [to assist farmers] … often fail too.” What’s required to alter the situation? The authors cite the following familiar wish-list: “renewed focus on growth in agricultural productivity, improving rural households’ access to land, strengthening agricultural input and output markets, HIV/AIDS [sic], real change in world trade protocols, and increasing investments in agricultural developments by donors ….”
With premises such as these, no wonder the experts are pessimistic. What do Africans themselves think? In this report, as in many others, the voices of farmers, small or large, are wholly absent. The practical problems – of how to till the soil, where to procure seeds, how often to weed, when to use bucket and dirt-canal irrigation, where to find help at harvest – go entirely unmentioned as if the authors never visited ordinary farmers in

These conditions, however desireable in the abstract, won’t come about any time soon. For the experts, the logic of their argument means the non-existence of African farmers, or their “untenable future.” Yet Africa’s small farmers actually won’t vanish simply because Western experts can’t see how they can go from where are they now to where the experts want them to be. Africa’s small farmers are condemned to cope with the difficult conditions they face, even if foreign experts wish the situation were different and the farmers’ options less unsatisfying.

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