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 Front Cover
 Table of Contents
 Introduction
 Factors influencing global debates...
 Potential for sustainable African...
 Policy questions
 Reference






Group Title: Pursuit of sustainable development : global debates and local agricultural management systems in Africa
Title: Pursuit of sustainable development
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Title: Pursuit of sustainable development global debates and local agricultural management systems in Africa
Physical Description: 21 p. : ; 28 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Lele, Uma J.
Publisher: Food and Resource Economics Dept., Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida
Place of Publication: Gainesville, Fla.
Publication Date: 1991
 Subjects
Subject: Sustainable agriculture -- Africa   ( lcsh )
Agricultural development projects -- Africa   ( lcsh )
Agriculture and state -- Africa   ( lcsh )
Genre: government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent)   ( marcgt )
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 Notes
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references (p. 19-21)
General Note: Cover title.
General Note: "November 1991."
General Note: "Prepared for the International Symposium on Management Systems for Sustainable Agricultural Development in Sub-Saharan Africa for the Royal Tropical Institute, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, October 28-November 1, 1991"--P. 1.
Funding: Electronic resources created as part of a prototype UF Institutional Repository and Faculty Papers project by the University of Florida.
General Note: International working paper series, IW91-10
Statement of Responsibility: by Uma Lele.
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Table of Contents
    Front Cover
        Page i
    Table of Contents
        Page ii
    Introduction
        Page 1
    Factors influencing global debates and donor influences
        Page 2
        Page 3
        National policy and local development
            Page 4
        Interrelations of energy use, income level, and sustainability
            Page 5
            Page 6
        Productivity and sustainability
            Page 7
    Potential for sustainable African solutions
        Page 8
        Concerns for productivity growth
            Page 8
        Role of research, investment in human capital and productivity growth
            Page 9
        African research and data
            Page 10
        African input use
            Page 10
            Page 11
            Page 12
        The allocation of limited resources
            Page 13
    Policy questions
        Page 14
        Has productivity suffered at the hands of sustainability?
            Page 14
            Page 15
        Can economic sustainability be ecologically sustainable?
            Page 16
        Implications for policy and further research
            Page 17
            Page 18
    Reference
        Page 19
        Page 20
        Page 21
Full Text

,h 007


IW91-10


PURSUIT OF SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT:
GLOBAL DEBATES AND LOCAL
AGRICULTURAL MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS
IN AFRICA

by

Uma LIle

IW91-10 November 1991


INTERNATIONAL WORKING PAPER SERIES







t3I



0


FOOD AND RESOURCE ECONOMICS DEPARTMENT
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
University of Florida
Gainesville, Florida 32611












Table of Contents



Factors Influencing Global Debates and Donor Influences .................. 2
National Policy and Local Development .......................... 4
Interrelations of Energy Use, Income Level, and Sustainability .......... 5
Productivity and Sustainability ................................. 7

Potential for Sustainable African Solutions ...... ....................... 8

Concerns for Productivity Growth ................................... 8
Role of Research, Investment in Human Capital and Productivity Growth .. 9
African Research and Data ................................... 10
African Input Use ..... ........................... ....... 10
The Allocation of Limited Resources ............................ 13

Policy Questions .............................................. 14

Has Productivity Suffered at the Hands of Sustainability? .................. 14
Can Economic Sustainability be Ecologically Sustainable? ............. 16
Implications for Policy and Further Research ................ ....... 17








PURSUIT OF SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT:
GLOBAL DEBATES AND LOCAL AGRICULTURAL
MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS IN AFRICA1

Uma Lele2



Concerns about sustainability have acquired center stage in the debate on

economic development. Depending on the precise nature of the concern, sustainability

issues are typically discussed either at the local or the global level. Yet interrelationships

between global, national and local levels help define the problem more accurately and to

identify solutions with regard to sustainability. Deliberations about systems for the

management of sustainable agriculture in Africa must therefore be informed by the larger

and at times cantankerous international debate on sustainability.

The Bruntland Commission's definition that development is sustainable when it

meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of the future

generations to meet their needs is now universally accepted (see for instance FAO).

Bequests to future generations have thus acquired importance (Norgaard). With high

living standards in the industrial world, utility of income to current generations has

declined relative to that of the environmental quality. In developing countries where

incomes are low, understandably, the objective of survival and improving living standards

receives greater weight. While some believe that sustainability will remain the major

theme for several decades into the 21st century, others more skeptical (including some



1 A paper prepared for the International Symposium on Management Systems for Sustainable
Agricultural Development in Sub-Saharan Africa for the Royal Tropical Institute, Amsterdam, The Netherlands,
October 28- November 1, 1991.
2 Director of International Studies & Programs and Graduate Research Professor, University of Florida,
Gainesville, Florida, USA.








environmentalists) fear that sustainability will be "so abused as to be meaningless, as a

device to straddle the ideological conflicts that pervade contemporary environmentalism."3

This paper first considers the different ecological and economic views of

sustainable development, and then examines those views in the context of Africa. Then,

it explores their implications for government and donor policies. It stresses the central

importance of increasing smallholder agricultural productivity for achieving sustainable

development and makes a plea to (once again) give agriculture the importance that it

requires.



Factors Influencing Global Debates and Donor Influences

The importance attached to sustainability does not only differ between countries

at different income levels, but varies among and within disciplines. Physicists argue that

the laws of thermodynamics impose real and foreseeable limits to growth resulting from

absolute scarcities of factors of production. These laws place limits on the capacity of

the environment to assimilate waste residuals from human activity (Batie). According to

this view, laws of nature are more powerful than those of human beings. Knowledge

cannot indefinitely expand the domain of human material progress at the expense of

natural environments. Energy can neither be created nor destroyed. All consumption

and production ultimately increases entropy and irrevocably diminishes future ability to

use resources. This ecological view of irreversibility and instability of global systems is

consistent with the views of classical economists at the local level. Malthus and Ricardo

had stressed the consequences of fixed land and diminishing returns to agriculture in the


3 As quoted in E. T. York.








form of growing immizerisation of agricultural households. Malthus argued that population

would tend to stabilize at a level natural resources could sustain. The classical economic

view provided the intellectual basis for the industrial revolution in Europe and led early

development economists (e.g., W. Arthur Lewis) to emphasize industrialization in

developing countries as a way to grow out of the Malthusian trap. Ecologists fear (as

classical economists did then) the consequences of rapid population growth.

Neoclassical economists on the other hand believe in unlimited scope for technical

change to raise productivity of conventional factors of production. They argue that factor

scarcities cause changes in relative factor prices. Furthermore, through human ingenuity,

accumulation of knowledge, technical progress and the development of institutions, price

changes continuously result in the search for new technologies and institutions (Schultz,

Hayami and Ruttan). In the neoclassical view, population growth can be an asset

prompting technical change, e.g. through the scarcity of land relative to labor. Population

growth also fosters the development of factor and product markets thereby causing

economic growth (Boserup). Physicists spurn this neoclassical economic view as naive.

They argue that it (inadvertently) leads to continued modes of behavior justified by greed

(P. Smith). Elsewhere I have argued that induced technical change prompted by factor

scarcities which neoclassisists enshrine is not rapid enough in Africa to more than

compensate for the adverse effects of population growth. A strong public policy is

needed by African governments to foster the development and adoption of modern

technology in agriculture, a public good in least developed countries (Lele and Stone).

All too often research policy is not effective. Neoclassical economists have few

explanations for the pervasive failure of the state to provide public goods.








Global concerns about sustainability influence donor views, aid levels and policy

conditionality with respect to developing countries. They thereby indirectly influence

developing country policies, investments and institutions. Nearly 70 to 80 percent of

government expenditures in several African countries come from external aid (Lele). How

donors view sustainability in the particular context of Africa therefore has an important

influence on African policies and the rate of technical change in African agriculture as well

as providing a new, refreshing input into the global debate. Africa is not only highly

dependent on foreign aid; that dependence has been growing in the last decade with the

increased incidence of chronic hunger, frequent famines, high rates of infant and child

mortality and low life expectancy. All these factors lend great urgency to the survival of

the present generation as a way to ensure future sustainability.



National Policy and Local Development

Because environment, poverty and population growth are linked in least developed

countries national policies and local initiatives and capability are equally important. They

determine growth and equity outcomes as well as determining the quality of the

environment, and the size and quality of the population. The African continent has been

experiencing decline in per capital incomes for two successive decades, in part due to the

failure of its agricultural sectors. Rapid population growth has caused the extension of

production into marginal (forestry and pasture) lands unsuited to cultivation, leading to

a reduction in the fallow period, increasing deforestation, reducing soil fertility and causing

diminishing returns & la Malthus.








Interrelations of Energy Use. Income Level, and Sustainabllity

Environmental degradation is also directly related to the nature and level of energy

use which is related to income level per capital. Countries at high and low levels of per

capital income use very different levels of energy per capital and cause different forms of

environmental degradation. Per capital energy use in the United States is 40 times that

in India or Africa (K. Smith). Thus a small proportional decline in the use of energy in the

industrial world means a large absolute decline in the total world energy use. By

commanding greater use of energy, the industrial world also contributes proportionately

more to the emission of carbon dioxide believed to cause global warming. Kirk Smith

points out that the rapid economic growth in the U.S. over the past several decades has

resulted in a large natural debt (K. Smith). This global distributional dimension of the

growth of energy use in developing countries is frequently overlooked by some ecologists

in the industrial world who exercise influence on public opinion and indirectly the content

of foreign aid (see for instance arguments contained in Avery, P. Smith).

Unlike in the U.S., populations in developing countries rely largely on biomass

rather than fossil fuels for their energy requirements, making demands on the plant and

forestry resources for food and fuel wood, contributing further to deforestation, soil

erosion and the loss of soil fertility, despite their low level of energy use. Only 3% of the

overall energy use in the world is estimated to be deployed in the agricultural sector

(Mudahar and Hignett). Since developing countries use far less energy input in

agriculture than their developed counterparts, the developing country share of the energy

use in the total agricultural sector is thus minuscule, and Africa's share is smaller still.

Moreover, moving up what Kirk Smith terms the "energy ladder", i.e., from renewable to

other cleaner forms of energy is inevitable for them in the course of their economic

5








development. The environmental issues in the agriculture of developing countries

therefore relate primarily to shifting patterns of energy consumption, increasing agricultural

productivity and incomes and bringing down the rate of growth of population. In contrast,

issues at the center stage in developed countries include preservation of biodiversity,

containment of the greenhouse gases to reverse the trend in global warming, protection

of water quality and marine life from run-offs of chemicals, pesticides, and animal waste

associated with the high input/high output agriculture, and conservation of resources

such as coal and oil. With industrialization, urbanization and increased use of capital also

arise a different set of modern risks, e.g. the growing incidence of cancer (K. Smith).

Transposition of such developed country environmental problems to developing countries

is a pervasive problem in the international environmental debate.

The extreme and growing disparities in energy use on the other hand explain in

part the different weights attached by developed and developing countries to the issues

of income growth and environmental protection referred to earlier. To acknowledge the

difference in the level of energy use is not to deny that developing countries are a major

contributor to the reduction of biodiversity, nor that they face problems of inadequate

handling of the growing use of chemicals and pesticides. Rather these latter problems

are often a symptom of rapid population growth, slow or no growth in factor productivity

and incomes, inadequate development of human and organizational capital, and lack of

regulatory mechanisms to deal with risks of modernization. Moreover, a lack of

alternative technologies to increase productivity and incomes makes it often both tempting

and expeditious for developing countries to follow the conventional route to economic

development as we will show below, with profound implications for organization and

application of research and technology.







Productivity and Sustainability

It is now important to explore the relationship between productivity and

sustainability. Rapid growth in agricultural productivity reduces the amount of land

needed to generate food and allows a regeneration of forests and pastures. For instance,

in the western world land has reverted to forests due to the increased productivity of

agriculture, and reduction in the population engaged in agriculture. Through effective

public policy, Asian countries too have modernized their agriculture by the increased use

of chemical fertilizers (the use of which increased tenfold from 1975 to 1985), irrigation

and high-yielding varieties. Increase in food production eliminated widespread hunger

and famine and relieved population pressure on the land, although more effective public

policies would have enabled greater effect of the Green Revolution on reducing poverty,

decelerating population growth and improving the environment in South Asia than

occurred.

Productivity and income growth cause a demographic transition, i.e. it reduces

human fertility rates via the positive effects on the health of women, and on infant and

child survival. Without income increases, absence of a demographic transition further

raises the danger of the ecological disaster which some ecologists fear (see Avery, P.

Smith). To generate productivity increase, however, requires greater use of energy per

capital, e.g., in the form of chemical fertilizers and transportation. It also means a shift

from wood energy to fossil fuels.

Environmental concerns in the industrial world, however, undermine the popular

support for increased energy use in the developing world, for example, the increased use

of chemical fertilizers. Whereas aid could finance fertilizer imports in developing countries

strapped for foreign exchange, resistance to such financing arises notwithstanding low








energy input in developing country agriculture, as well as the low level of energy used in

the production of some plant nutrients. For example, phosphorous and potash fertilizers

and other micro nutrients often needed in African soils, use much less energy in their

production compared to nitrogenous fertilizers (Mudahar and Hignett).




Potential for Sustainable African Solutions



Concerns for Productivity Growth

While there is strong agreement in general terms on the need to increase factor

productivity in least developed countries, there is little agreement on the prospects or the

means to achieve it in Africa, including especially intertemporal trade-offs between

productivity growth, population growth, and protection of the environment: issues on

which donors exercise an important influence.

To illustrate, in its long-term perspective study on Africa, the World Bank has

projected that the rate of growth of agricultural production would need to increase from

the present 2.5% to 4% annually, simply to maintain the present low levels of per capital

incomes in view of the rapidly growing population. Considerable concern, however, exists

among experts on African agriculture as to whether this rate of growth of production is

achievable at present levels of technology for arid and semi- arid areas (See for instance

FAO and Lele, Christiansen and Kadiresan). Notwithstanding some structural adjustment

since the early 80s, the policy, institutional, organizational and human capital base is

simply too weak in Africa to engineer an overall long-term 4% rate of growth in agricultural

production, although improvement can occur in selected areas of high physical potential.

8








energy input in developing country agriculture, as well as the low level of energy used in

the production of some plant nutrients. For example, phosphorous and potash fertilizers

and other micro nutrients often needed in African soils, use much less energy in their

production compared to nitrogenous fertilizers (Mudahar and Hignett).




Potential for Sustainable African Solutions



Concerns for Productivity Growth

While there is strong agreement in general terms on the need to increase factor

productivity in least developed countries, there is little agreement on the prospects or the

means to achieve it in Africa, including especially intertemporal trade-offs between

productivity growth, population growth, and protection of the environment: issues on

which donors exercise an important influence.

To illustrate, in its long-term perspective study on Africa, the World Bank has

projected that the rate of growth of agricultural production would need to increase from

the present 2.5% to 4% annually, simply to maintain the present low levels of per capital

incomes in view of the rapidly growing population. Considerable concern, however, exists

among experts on African agriculture as to whether this rate of growth of production is

achievable at present levels of technology for arid and semi- arid areas (See for instance

FAO and Lele, Christiansen and Kadiresan). Notwithstanding some structural adjustment

since the early 80s, the policy, institutional, organizational and human capital base is

simply too weak in Africa to engineer an overall long-term 4% rate of growth in agricultural

production, although improvement can occur in selected areas of high physical potential.

8







Unlike in the case of the Green Revolution in Asia which had an overall impact on food

productivity and supply, dramatic new technologies do not exist to accelerate the rate of

growth of food production in Africa.



Role of Research. Investment in Human Capital and Productivity Growth

The problem of productivity growth is further complicated in Africa by the fact that

whereas in India and elsewhere in Asia the relationship of use of modern chemical inputs

to production was well established through sound empirical research, such information

in typically lacking in Africa. In India, local information helped to fine-tune technical

packages, to establish priorities for fertilizer and other input distribution, and to assess the

response of rural households to the introduction of modern technology. Major

productivity increases are typically brought about by injection of scientific knowledge from

outside the local system, requiring considerable centralized investment in scientific

research together with a keen knowledge of local growing circumstances. Modern

research requires a large overhead of institutional and human capital of a nature and

scale local organizations are unable to finance. Research is a classic public good.

However, it is often woefully missing in Africa, especially when quality rather than the

quantity of financial resources expended is considered (Lele and Goldsmith).

In their enthusiasm for increasing the adaptive nature of research, (for example

through farming systems research), donors and governments have frequently overlooked

the scientific content of the adaptive research. Adaptive research is often relegated to ill-

suited and ill-equipped agricultural extension systems, which are under evermore pressure

to generate "new" technical packages based on old local practices.








African Research and Data

It should not be surprising that under these circumstances the data and information

on local resources and responses to the use of modern inputs are often weak and

unreliable in Africa. Yet, climatic variability and antecedent high risks place particularly

high demands on the precision and probability distribution of the responses as well as on

the human and organizational capacity to obtain it, capacity which is frequently lacking.

A substantial review of the existing data on response coefficients by agencies such as the

FAO, IFDC, the World Bank and the national and regional research systems carried out

as part of the MADIA study led researchers to conclude that "unfortunately these sources

often fail to specify the production function, so it is difficult to ascertain whether a

coefficient is a marginal or an average value, the sources do not provide a probability

distribution of the benefits of fertilizer use in an environment of high inter and intra-year

rainfall variability, or rarely specify the variety of seeds used or the soil types and do not

consider the implications of the gap between on-station and on-farm conditions such as

the practice of sole vs. mixed cropping, the quality of land preparation, the extent of

weeding, the type, mix or rate of fertilizer application or the timeliness of planting.

Therefore it is often difficult to interpret the available data" (Lele, Christiansen and

Kadiresan, pp. 36-7).



African Input Use

In addition to these problems of research and data, an even more serious problem

is that the very approach to accelerating agricultural production through scientific research

and the use of modern (biological, chemical and hydrological) technology, which

constituted the foundation of the agricultural revolutions in Asia and earlier in Europe and

10








African Research and Data

It should not be surprising that under these circumstances the data and information

on local resources and responses to the use of modern inputs are often weak and

unreliable in Africa. Yet, climatic variability and antecedent high risks place particularly

high demands on the precision and probability distribution of the responses as well as on

the human and organizational capacity to obtain it, capacity which is frequently lacking.

A substantial review of the existing data on response coefficients by agencies such as the

FAO, IFDC, the World Bank and the national and regional research systems carried out

as part of the MADIA study led researchers to conclude that "unfortunately these sources

often fail to specify the production function, so it is difficult to ascertain whether a

coefficient is a marginal or an average value, the sources do not provide a probability

distribution of the benefits of fertilizer use in an environment of high inter and intra-year

rainfall variability, or rarely specify the variety of seeds used or the soil types and do not

consider the implications of the gap between on-station and on-farm conditions such as

the practice of sole vs. mixed cropping, the quality of land preparation, the extent of

weeding, the type, mix or rate of fertilizer application or the timeliness of planting.

Therefore it is often difficult to interpret the available data" (Lele, Christiansen and

Kadiresan, pp. 36-7).



African Input Use

In addition to these problems of research and data, an even more serious problem

is that the very approach to accelerating agricultural production through scientific research

and the use of modern (biological, chemical and hydrological) technology, which

constituted the foundation of the agricultural revolutions in Asia and earlier in Europe and

10








North America) has been brought into question by concerns about environmental

sustainability. Popular resistance to conventional plant breeding technologies which Asian

countries experienced earlier now also extends to the use of biotechnology.

Environmentalists decry the growth of nutrient use associated with the Green Revolution

technology in Asia (Avery). Promoters of biotechnology argue that it can save use of

chemicals by introducing insect and disease resistance among plants and animals

(Collison and Wright, Herdt).

Reflecting the technology pessimism, the application of nutrients per ha. was only

20 kg in Africa compared to 226 kg in Western Europe and 85 kg per ha. in North

America and Asia (Table 1). Whereas the per ha. use of nutrients more than tripled in

Asia between 1970 and 1985 it only doubled in Africa. Thus Africa's share of nutrient use

declined over time from its already low level. It is likely that this use has declined further

since 1985 as a result of structural adjustment.



Table 1 Fertilizer Use Per Hectare of Arable Land


Region 1970 1975 1980 1985
Kilograms of nutrient/hectare

Africa 10 13 18 20
Latin America 20 29 44 41
Oceanic 34 29 36 32
Developing Countries 18 27 49 58
Asia 26 37 68 85
North America 70 87 99 85
Western Europe 176 188 221 226
World 49 63 80 87
Source: FAO, Fertilizer Yearbook, 1986.








Whereas macroeconomic reforms are essential to resuscitate growth, in the short run

devaluations and reduction of subsidies have increased the price of imported fertilizers

and reduced consumption. Continued high level of protection of agriculture in industrial

countries results in overapplication of inputs beyond levels that would be economically

optimum at undistorted world market prices. Opposite is the case in developing

countries. If protectionist policies continue in OECD countries, together with liberalization

in developing countries, it will cause immizerisation of developing countries through

continued dumping of products from industrial countries as well as by unfair competition

in third markets. In several developing countries, abolition of the public distribution

agencies has already caused a collapse of the input distribution systems. Privatization

has not proceeded at the pace expected. Small and undeveloped markets for nutrients

and variability in the demand for inputs increases risks to the private suppliers. Elsewhere

I have documented the inability of low income rural households to afford fertilizers,

stressing the need for the use of selective subsidies and public distribution systems

targeted specifically to these households to address the problems of food security.

Colleagues and I have also stressed the need for long-term import support for fertilizers

by donors as a way of increasing the use of modern inputs in African agriculture and

accompanying it with a carefully devised technology development and dissemination

program such as that provided to India in the mid-1960s (Lele, Christiansen, Kadiresan;

Lele and Goldsmith). Without a consistent long-term agricultural development strategy,

it is unlikely that programs addressed to a single set of concerns, e.g. sustainability, will

solve the problem.








The Allocation of Limited Resources

Another important issue with regard to sustainable management systems of

agriculture relates to regional priorities in the promotion of agricultural production as it

should and does in practice relate to regional comparative advantage. Concerns about

regional equity have led African governments and their donor supporters to overlook the

fact that physical potential to achieve production and productivity growth is greater in

some regions than in others. Physical resources and transportation costs jointly

determine economic advantage. Whereas for welfare and political reasons it might be

justifiable to expend investment resources in a given region, that region would not

necessarily be the priority if the objective is to increase production based on technological

and economic considerations. Investment in transportation in Africa could further change

the internal comparative advantage by reducing transport costs. This would make the

African production more competitive vis-a-vis OECD countries. Yet in their war on poverty

in the 1970s donors tended to finance projects in areas where there was little physical or

economic scope for increasing agricultural production without :an overall long-term

development strategy. This approach contributed little to productivity growth and

(inadvertently) placed greater burden on the environment (Lele). Strong national policies

are needed to achieve productivity growth in the regions where it is physically and

economically possible, together with social welfare, distribution and migration policies for

regions where resources cannot sustain larger populations. This requires investment in

transport, communications, organization and human capital to integrate regions of high

and low agricultural potential as well as pricing, subsidy and food distribution policies to

achieve growth while ensuring distribution. Without a strong increase in productivity other








development goals of increasing access to education, nutrition and village water supply

are not economically sustainable as the example of Tanzania in the 1970s illustrates well.

By the same token resource-poor regions in Africa do not have to be economically

poor provided appropriate macro policies are pursued, including investment in human

capital. The examples of Switzerland and Japan demonstrate that, even with few natural

resources, it is possible to achieve high incomes with abundant human capital and good

economic policies.



Policy Questions



Has Productivity Suffered at the Hands of Sustainability?

Achieving the objectives of growth, distribution and environmental sustainability

requires strong political, economic and technological consensus and a political and

administrative commitment to implement policies, including in particular achieving a

balance between national policies and local developmental concerns.

Several influential analysts and policy advisors to the international donor community

on the agricultural and rural scene have noted, however, that increasing the productivity

of smallholder agriculture (defined in the broadest sense to include livestock, forestry and

fisheries in addition to crops) has become a subsidiary priority among donors, (Paarlberg

and Upton, Schuh) in relation to other objectives including the environment. Notwith-

standing the rhetorical support being accorded to agriculture donors are not helping

African countries to make the necessary investments in the agricultural and rural sectors

and to form long-term strategies to achieve rapid and sustainable development (Lele).

Fearful of losing support of their constituencies which determine the size and allocation

14








development goals of increasing access to education, nutrition and village water supply

are not economically sustainable as the example of Tanzania in the 1970s illustrates well.

By the same token resource-poor regions in Africa do not have to be economically

poor provided appropriate macro policies are pursued, including investment in human

capital. The examples of Switzerland and Japan demonstrate that, even with few natural

resources, it is possible to achieve high incomes with abundant human capital and good

economic policies.



Policy Questions



Has Productivity Suffered at the Hands of Sustainability?

Achieving the objectives of growth, distribution and environmental sustainability

requires strong political, economic and technological consensus and a political and

administrative commitment to implement policies, including in particular achieving a

balance between national policies and local developmental concerns.

Several influential analysts and policy advisors to the international donor community

on the agricultural and rural scene have noted, however, that increasing the productivity

of smallholder agriculture (defined in the broadest sense to include livestock, forestry and

fisheries in addition to crops) has become a subsidiary priority among donors, (Paarlberg

and Upton, Schuh) in relation to other objectives including the environment. Notwith-

standing the rhetorical support being accorded to agriculture donors are not helping

African countries to make the necessary investments in the agricultural and rural sectors

and to form long-term strategies to achieve rapid and sustainable development (Lele).

Fearful of losing support of their constituencies which determine the size and allocation

14








of external aid, donor agencies have avoided exploring the amorphous concepts of

sustainable agriculture and especially the intertemporal trade-offs among the different

objectives of productivity growth, population growth and environmental sustainability, and

their implications for aid policy. A bandwagon effect has been in operation on aid to

Africa with wide swings from basic needs, to macro policy reform, to women in

development, social dimensions of adjustment, food security, privatization, export

promotion, capacity building, governance, and on and on.

Exploration of these- issues is critical, but strategic priorities will have to be

established to achieve technological investment, organization and human capital

development needed to develop sustainable systems of agricultural management in Africa.

Without strategic priorities it is unlikely that prospects for sustainable agriculture will

improve.

The need to establish strategic priorities must not be lost sight of in the

preoccupation with the adverse consequences of macroeconomic policies on the

misallocation of factors of production. These are by now well recognized and not

elaborated here. For example, overvalued exchange rates and other implicit and explicit

forms of taxation of agriculture depresses production. Indiscriminate subsidies on

fertilizers result in their overuse and inappropriate application, etc. Similarly, land policies

biased in favor of large farmers in some countries are leading to the crowding of the

population on a limited amount of land, increasing poverty and reducing the ability of poor

households to bear the risk associated with innovation with modern technology, etc.

(Lele).








Can Economic Sustainability be Ecologically Sustainable?

Since ecologists fear the infeasibility of extending the current high levels of per

capital energy use in developed countries to developing countries on grounds of global

sustainability, the controversial question about the so-called "alternative agriculture" is now

worth exploring. Alternative agriculture is a phrase often used to describe low input and

presumably high output agriculture involving the whole farm (or the farming systems)

approach compared to the denigrated conventional high input/high output commodity

based agriculture. The prestigious National Research Council of the National Academy

of Sciences published a report in 1989 on alternative agriculture suggesting that

widespread adoption of proven alternative systems would result "in even greater"

economic benefits to farmers. A former member of the CGIAR's equally prestigious

Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) has, however, called it a highly controversial report

because "it is based on little more than anecdotal evidence involving whole farm

experiences" (York). The NRC Report acknowledges that "the data bases and economic

research on the profitability of alternative systems are minimal. The Committee's case

studies and reviews of available data illustrate that the sample is too small and

unrepresentative to justify conclusions about the precise economic effects of widespread

adoption of specific practices or systems." A reputable natural resource research

organization, Resources for the Future, has argued that the NRC report "gives an

inaccurate and too optimistic view of both the environmental and economic benefits of

alternative agriculture" (as quoted in York). The Potash and Phosphate Institute severely

criticized the report arguing that "it was biased, misleading, filled with contradictions and

generally unscientific" (York). There are others who concur with these criticisms.

Moreover, a recent report by two reputed agricultural economists on the research of the

16








CGIAR concludes that notwithstanding much farming systems research examples of

"successful" farming systems are still too sparse to provide much basis for a view that

they increase productivity (Anderson, Herdt and Scobie).




Implications for Policy and Further Research

What are the implications of the global debate and its consequences to date for

Africa in terms of improvement in future international responses to sustainable systems

of agricultural management in Africa?

It is clear that a multidisciplinary approach involving physical, biological and social

scientists is urgently needed for research and applications at all levels, since increasing

productivity of smallholder agriculture on a broad basis must once again become a goal

of highest priority as the only way to improve the environment and to bring the rate of

population growth under control. Multidisciplinary research on farming systems has not

been well grounded in the rigors of specific disciplines, however, and therefore there is

often skepticism about such an approach. Multidisciplinary research is all the more

complex as individual disciplines advance rapidly and become highly specialized, yet

multiple social objectives make problem-solving impossible without an interdisciplinary

approach. This often explains the shrill debate between, for example, environmentalists

and economists. Increasing agricultural productivity and production would require the use

of modern chemical and biological inputs based on much more scientific multidisciplinary

research to take into account the physical and other diversity of local conditions.

Because such research and application are highly intensive of trained personnel,

investments in human capital and the national and local organizational capacity for

17








research and extension would need to be augmented. Pricing, subsidy land and

transportation policies, and investments would have to improve. The fact that structural

adjustment may not be sufficient to improve the lot of the poor households would need

to be recognized through actions going beyond rhetorical acknowledgement. Finally, the

need for developing countries to increase their share of energy consumption from present

relatively minuscule levels of energy use would need to be recognized.

To transpose the perceptions of environmental problems encountered in developed

countries to developing countries is a tragedy. Donors must invest resources to

understand the precise constraints developing countries face and to alleviate them. The

conference of the Royal Tropical Institute is a nobel effort in support of this goal.





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