Food in Sub-Saharan Africa

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Food in Sub-Saharan Africa
Series Title:
Food in Africa series
Hansen, Art
McMillan, Della E
Place of Publication:
Boulder Colo
Lynne Rienner Publishers
Publication Date:
Physical Description:
xvi, 410 p. : ill. ; 24 cm.


Subjects / Keywords:
Food supply -- Africa, Sub-Saharan ( lcsh )
Nutrition policy -- Africa, Sub-Saharan ( lcsh )
Agriculture -- Africa, Sub-Saharan ( lcsh )
bibliography ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )


Includes bibliographies and index.
Electronic resources created as part of a prototype UF Institutional Repository and Faculty Papers project by the University of Florida.
Statement of Responsibility:
edited by Art Hansen and Della E. McMillan.

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University of Florida
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14152375 ( OCLC )
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TO:8460988 P.2
MAY-17-2007 02:17P FROM::846088 P.2


May 14, 2007

/ Della McMillan
S1905 NW 7h Lane
Gainesville, FL 32603"
Art Hansen
2494 Brookdale Drive NE
Atlanta, GA 30345

Food in Sub-Saharan Africa
Dear Della and Art:

It seems impossible that it has been so long since I've seen the two of you-especially since so
many things bring one or the other of you to mind!

In response to Art's message, which made its way to me in a circuitous fashion, of course we will
return the rights to Food in Sub-Saharan Africa. To make it official:

All rights granted to Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc. (LRP) in the June 21, 1985, publishing
agreement between Art Hansen, Della E. McMillan, and LRP revert to Art Hansen and Della E.
McMillan as of the date of this letter.

Business aside, I do hope that our paths will cross again. For now, I send warmest regards,


Lynne Rienner

1800 30ii STRfkr, Su im 314 Rou Inil. COIORAno 80301 THi 303 444-6684 IAX 303 444-0824 WWW.RIFNNFR.COM


I =

Della E. McMillan
FOOD IN1905 NW 7th Lane
F O IN Gainesville, FL 32603




Series Editor: Art Hansen
Center for African Studies
University of Florida
Gainesville, Florida

* Africa's Agrarian Crisis: The Roots of Famine *
Stephen K. Commins, Michael F. Lofchie, and Rhys Payne, editors

* Food in Sub-Saharan Africa *
Art Hansen and Della E. McMillan, editors

edited by
Art Hansen and Della E. McMillan

Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc. Boulder, Colorado

Figure 3.5 reprinted with permission from John M. Pritchard.
1979. Africa: A Study Geography for Advanced Students. Revised
metric edition. London: Longman Inc. P. 65.

Figure 6.10 reprinted with permission from John M. Pritchard. 1979.
Africa: A Study Geographyfor Advanced Students. Revised metric
edition. London: Longman Inc. P. 64.

Published in the United States of America in 1986 by
Lynne Rienner Publishers Inc.
948 North Street, Suite 8, Boulder, Colorado 80302

01986 by Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Main entry under title:

Food in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Includes bibliographies and index.
1. Food supply-Africa, Sub-Saharan-Addresses,
essays, lectures. 2. Nutrition policy-Africa, Sub-
Saharan-Addresses, essays, lectures. 3. Agriculture-
Africa, Sub-Saharan-Addresses, essays, lectures.
I. Hansen, Art. II. McMillan, Della E.
HD9017.S82F66 1986 338.1'9'67 85-28260
ISBN 0-931477-59-X
ISBN 0-931477-58-1 (pbk.)

Casebound edition distributed outside of North and South America and Japan by
Frances Pinter (Publishers) Ltd, 25 Floral Street,
London WC2E 9DS England UK ISBN 0-86187-598-2

Printed and bound in the United States of America


List of Tables

List of Figures


1 Overview: Food in Sub-Saharan Africa
Della E. McMillan and Art Hansen 1
An Integrated Understanding 3
Outline of the Book 6


2 Food as a Focus of National and Regional Policies in
Contemporary Africa S. K. B. Asante 11
The Concept of Food Policy 12
The Politics of Economic Intervention 14
The Regional Approach 20
Policy Reforms 21
Summary 23
Suggested Further Readings 24

3 The Political Economy of Food Issues Rent Lemarchand 25
The Roots of Economic Vulnerability:
The Legacy of Colonial Rule 26
The View from Below: The Peasant Mode of Production


Reexamined 29
Socialist Versus Capitalist Models: An Interim
Assessment 32
The Incidence of External Constraints 38
Notes 41
Suggested Further Readings 41

4 Agricultural Development Ideas in Historical Perspective
John M. Staatz and Carl K. Eicher 43
The Role of Agriculture in Development Economics,
1950-1969 44
The Growth-with-Equity Era Since 1970 52
Notes 61
Suggested Further Readings 63

5 Social Science Perspectives on Food in Africa Sara Berry 64
Searching for the Evidence-What Do We Know About
Agricultural Performance? 65
African Agriculture and the World Economy 66
The Role of the State 68
Environmental Constraints and Technological Development 70
Rational Peasants and Imperfect Structures 72
Domestic Organization and Farming Practices 74
Differentiation and Social Change 76
Conclusion 80
Suggested Further Readings 81


6 The African Environment Charles Guthrie 82
Size and Regions 82
Climate and Vegetation 84
Patterns of Agriculture 89
Demographic Patterns 92
Economic Patterns 97
Sources and Patterns of Identity 101
Suggested Further Readings 105

7 Climate, Drought, and Famine in Africa
Sharon E. Nicholson 107
The Course of African Climate During Historic Time 111
African Climates in Recent Times 120
Causes of African Drought 122


Prognosis for the Future 123
Implications for Policy and Planning 125
Suggested Further Readings 128

8 Subsistence Strategies and Systems of Land Use in Africa
DanielMcGee 129
Hunting and Gathering 129
Fishing 131
Pastoralism 131
Cultivation 133
Dynamism and Complexity 134
Notes 135
Suggested Further Readings 135

9 Traditional Social Formations Ronald Cohen 136
The Individual in Traditional African Society 137
Political Organization in Traditional Africa 145
Conclusion 149
Notes and Acknowledgments 149
Suggested Further Readings 150

10 Agriculture, Food, and the Colonial Period
R. Hunt Davis, Jr. 151
Early Agriculture in Africa 153
The Precolonial Century 154
The Colonial Period 156
The Colonial Legacy 165
Notes 166
Suggested Further Readings 168


11 African Soils: Opportunities and Constraints Hugh Popenoe 169
Soil and Management Problems 170
Improving Soil Fertility 172
Soil Erosion and Conservation 173
Fire as an Agricultural Tool 174
Sustainable Agriculture, Farm Size, and Labor 174
Conclusion 176
Suggested Further Readings 176

12 Major Domesticated Food Crops
Clifton Hiebsch and Stephen K. O'Hair 177


Cereal Grain Crops Clifton Hiebsch 184
Farinaceous Crops Stephen K. O'Hair 191
Legume Grain Crops Clifton Hiebsch 197
Suggested Further Readings 205

13 Livestock in the Economies of Sub-Saharan Africa
James R. Simpson and Robert E. McDowell 207
Economic Importance 207
Domestic Livestock 209
Livestock Production Systems 215
Constraints, Problems, and Prospects for Livestock
Production 218
Suggested Further Readings 221

14 Undomesticated Animals and Plants Michael E. McGlothlen,
Paul Goldsmith, and Charles Fox 222
Indigenous Animals Excluding Fish Michael E. McGlothlen 223
Fish Paul Goldsmith 229
Undomesticated Plants as Food Charles Fox 234
Summary 236
Suggested Further Readings 237


15 Postharvest Considerations in the Food Chain
Robert P. Bates 239
A Balanced Strategy 240
Conservation 240
Conversion 246
Complementation 248
Innovation 249
Implementation 250
Suggested Further Readings 253

16 Fuelwood Olivia Webley 254
Impact on Agriculture 255
Remedying the Situation 257
Suggested Further Readings 258

17 Distribution of Resources and Products in Mossi Households
Della E. McMillan 260
Reservations about the Household Concept 261


Intrahousehold Organization of Food Production,
Consumption, and Distribution in the Central Mossi Plateau 263
Changing Patterns in a Settlement Project 268
Summary and Conclusions 271
Notes 272
Suggested Further Readings 273

18 Meeting Human Nutritional Needs Patricia A. Wagner 274
Nutrition, Health, and Functional Performance 275
Human Nutritional Needs and Dietary Patterns 281
Nutrition Policies and Programs 290
Suggested Further Readings 290


19 The Role of International Agricultural Research Centers
in Africa Donald L. Plucknett, Nigel J. H. Smith, and
Robert W. Herdt 292
History of CGIAR 292
Current Work in Africa 297
Impact on African Food Production 300
Outlook 302
Suggested Further Readings 303

20 Farming Systems Research and Extension:
An Approach to Solving Food Problems in Africa
Louise O. Fresco and Susan V. Poats 305
General Concepts and Features 306
Historical Roots and Development in Africa 309
Francophone Approaches in Africa 311
Anglophone Approaches in Africa 318
Major Obstacles to Implementation in Africa 327
The Future of FSR/E in Africa: Is It an Appropriate
Solution? 329
Notes 330
Suggested Further Readings 331

21 Women Farmers and Food in Africa:
Some Considerations and Suggested Solutions
Anita Spring 332
African Women are Farmers 332
The Sexual Division of Labor 334
Household Income and Food Supply 337


New Technologies Bypass Women 341
Working Toward Solutions 342
Conclusion 348
Suggested Further Readings 348

22 Prospects for Long-Term African Changes:
Lagos Plan of Action Versus The Berg Report
Robert S. Browne and Robert J. Cummings 349
Background 349
Policy Analyses and Prescriptions 351
Assumptions Underlying Both Documents 358
Pragmatism, Feasibility, and Appropriateness of the
Documents 360
Notes and Acknowledgements 362
Suggested Further Readings 363




Tables and Figures


1.1 Crisis Indicators for Sub-Saharan African Countries 4
3.1 Classification of Sub-Saharan Africa According to
Agricultural Production Performance, 1961-1981 33
6.1 Percentage of Population Under Fifteen Years of Age in
Selected Countries, 1984 97
7.1 Types of Data Useful for Historical Climatic Reconstructions 109
7.2 Rainfall at Nine Stations in 1950, 1972 and 1983 and Mean
Rainfall for 1950-1959 and 1970-1984 121
10.1 Principal Export Cash Crops from Africa During the
Colonial Period 160
10.2 Colonial European Settler Population in Africa 167
11.1 Share of Total Commercial Energy Used in the Fertilizer and
Agricultural Sectors of Developed and Developing Countries 173
12.1 Average Annual Production and Per Capita Production Index,
1981-1983, and Caloric Intake, 1972-1974, for Staple Food
Crops in Sub-Saharan Africa 179
12.2 Average Annual Production, 1981-1983, and Estimate of
Supplies for Consumption, 1975-1977, in Sub-Saharan
Africa 181
12.3 Average Nutritional Composition of Major Food Crops and
Three Animal Products of Sub-Saharan Africa 182


12.4 Legume Grain Crop Environmental Preference and
Plant Characteristics 200
13.1 Classification of Contributions of Livestock to
Human Welfare 209
13.2 Cattle, Sheep and Goat Production in Africa and Selected
Areas, 1983 212
13.3 Swine and Poultry Production in Africa and Selected
Areas, 1983 214
13.4 Major Characteristics of Livestock Production Systems
in Mali 216
15.1 Food Spoilage Categories 242
15.2 Some Key Appropriate Food Technology Needs 251
16.1 Fuelwood Dependency in Selected Countries of
Sub-Saharan Africa 255
18.1 Indicators of Nutritional and Health Status in Relation to
Measures for Poverty Incidence for 32 Sub-Saharan
African Countries 278
18.2 Three Major Functions of Nutrients 281
18.3 Major Functions of Macronutrients 282
18.4 Micronutrients 286
19.1 Centers Supported by the Consultative Group on International
Agricultural Research (CGIAR), 1985 294
19.2 Number of International Agricultural Research Center
(IARC) Senior Staff, Visiting Scientists and Staff on
Deputation, Posted in Each Region in 1984 298
20.1 Levels and Units of Analysis in R-D (Recherche
D6veloppement) Approach to Farming Systems Research 314
21.1 Contribution of Ivory Coast Women to Food Supply 338
21.2 Cash Income and Expenditures of Married and Unmarried
Cameroonian Women 340
21.3 Time Allocation by Sex and Village in the Central
African Republic 343
22.1 Comparison of Topics in Berg Report and Lagos Plan 352
22.2 A Comparison of Some Highlights of Berg Report and
the Lagos Plan 354



6.1 The Size of Africa 83
6.2 African Countries and Political Regions 84
6.3 The Intertropical Convergence Zone: Winds and Rains
in January and July 86
6.4 African Vegetation Zones 88
6.5 Annual Rainfall Distribution Patterns 90
6.6 Traditional Agricultural Systems in Africa 91
6.7 Comparative Indices of Food Production Per Capita,
1950 to 1984 93
6.8 National Population Estimates 94
6.9 Comparative Population Growth Rates, 1950 to 2000 95
6.10 Comparative Age-Sex Population Pyramids 96
6.11 African Countries Now Classified Among World's Least
Developed 99
6.12 Economic Islands in Africa 100
6.13 General Ethnic Territories in Africa 102
6.14 European Colonial Territories in Africa 103
6.15 Distribution of Islam in Africa 105
7.1 Fluctuations of Lake Levels and Climate in Africa
During the Last 4000 Years 110
7.2 Variations in the Level of Lake Chad During the Last
1000 Years 112
7.3 Flooding and Rainfall Patterns in North and West Africa,
1555 to 1900 113
7.4 Variations in African Lake Levels Since 1700 114
7.5 Schematic of Continental Rainfall Anomalies
c. 1820 to 1840, 1870 to 1895, 1895 to 1920 116
7.6 Trends of African Climatic Indicators (Lakes, Rivers,
Rainfall and Harvests), 1880 to 1920 117
7.7 Rainfall Fluctuations in Three Regions of West Africa, 1900
to 1984 118


7.8 Rainfall Fluctuations in Three Regions of East and Southern
Africa, 1900 to 1970 119
7.9 Rainfall Departures from Normal in West and Northeast
Africa, 1981 to 1984 (Percentage) 120
7.10 Rainfall Departures from Normal for Africa, 1950 to 1959,
1968 to 1973 (Percentage) 124
12.1 Suitable Areas for Rainfall Production of Millet, Sorghum,
Corn (Maize), and Cassava in Africa 178
13.1 Distribution of Cattle in Africa 210
15.1 Postharvest Food Pipelines 241
16.1 Fuelwood Scarcity in Africa 256
17.1 Land Tenure in Home Village 1979-Percentage of Land
Acquired for Cultivation Using Various Rights 264
17.2 Land Allocation to Various Groups and Individuals and
Labor Allocation to Cooperative and Private fields in the
Home Village, 1979 264
17.3 Percentage of Land Cultivation by Various Groups and
Individuals in Home Village, 1979, and in Project Village,
1983 269
20.1 Communication among Researchers, Farmers, and
Development Workers 315
20.2 Interactions Between Station-Based Technical Research and
On-Farm Adaptive Research 321


The idea for this book grew out of a recognized need at the University of
Florida for faculty and students to have a better understanding of the perspectives
of their colleagues in other disciplines who were involved in the same overseas
development projects or who were conducting research on related problems, often
in the same Third World countries. Although there was a confluence of goals-
usually related to increasing the food production and income of small farmers-
there were wide differences in the assessments of priorities and in disciplinary ac-
quisition of the necessary skills and experiences needed for the design of sound
policies and programs.
In 1977 various faculty members began to explore ways to strengthen interdis-
ciplinary dialogue on development issues. One of the outcomes of this effort was
an informal lunch seminar-Social, Agricultural, and Food Scientists Working
Group-in which faculty and graduate students from different disciplines met on
a weekly basis to discuss research interests and opportunities and to present re-
search results and theoretical models dealing with Third World agriculture. This
group became interested in a mode of research called farming systems research,
and some of these people became involved in establishing at Florida one of the
first formal programs for university-level training in farming systems research and
extension. Another outcome was a conscientious effort on the part of the univer-
sity's Center for African Studies to develop research, teaching, and public events
on African agriculture. The center established a Food in Africa Program to encour-
age and coordinate these activities.
In 1983 the Center for African Studies began an annual spring seminar on Af-
rican food issues. Faculty were invited to present survey papers dealing with some
of the critical food issues of concern to their own discipline, the evolution of this
disciplinary concern over time, and their estimation of future research directions.
Important topics, pertinent interested disciplines, experts in various fields, and
critical readings were identified through this seminar, and then served as the basis


for the present book.
We encourage readers who have comments, suggestions, or questions to send
them to the Food in Africa Program, Center for African Studies, 470 Grinter Hall,
University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611.
We would like to thank a number of people who have contributed directly to
the production of the book. R. Hunt Davis, Jr., director of the Center for African
Studies at the University of Florida, has been an invaluable force behind the de-
velopment of interdisciplinary studies in general and the development of the Food
in Africa Program and this book in particular; we extend him a special note of
thanks for his steady support throughout the entire project. Our publisher, Lynne
Rienner, and her staff have been very encouraging and helpful. Paul Monaghan
has performed his job of verifying the chapter citations and bibliography with en-
thusiasm and precision. Paul R. Stayert and Randy Pearsall deserve recognition
for the excellent maps and figures. Carol Lauriault and Robin Sumner of the
Center for African Studies should be thanked for the tables and general administra-
tive assistance. We would also like to thank Akim Hansen, Anita Spring, and
David Wilson for their support. We have learned a great deal.

Art Hansen
Della E. McMillan



Overview: Food in Sub-Saharan


A fricans are experiencing a series of short-term and long-term food crises.
Short-term crises are more evident to foreign observers and the news media than
long-term ones, but the two types of crises are fundamentally linked in Sub-
Saharan Africa. Short-term, or acute, crises are characterized by the sudden ap-
pearance somewhere in Africa of large numbers of starving people or people
weakened by undernutrition who, consequently, are dying of diseases and expo-
sure. Quite often these sufferers are also embroiled in a war or fleeing as refugees
or as drought-driven migrants. Examples of acute crises during the past two dec-
ades include the Biafran famine of the late 1960s, the Sahelian and Ethiopian
drought and famine of the late 1960s and early 1970s, wars and refugees in many
countries (Angola, Chad, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Zimbabwe, among others), and
the Ethiopian and Sahelian drought and famine in the mid-1980s. Sometimes the
onset of an acute crisis is more gradual than the sudden realization or recognition
of the crisis by observers might imply. A recent instance is the 1984 Ethiopian
famine with its accompanying exodus into Sudan of hundreds of thousands of
people. Although official reports had anticipated this disaster for some time, the
crisis burst almost unheralded into the U.S. public consciousness with a single
television special in October 1984.
The long-term, or chronic, food crises are less dramatic, less immediate, and
less obvious to the casual observer. They are characterized by gradual-over a
period of years or decades--changes and trends in economic or ecological factors
or relationships. In the beginning these trends are merely worrisome, but their
continuation threatens the stability and existence of the societies and economies
because the systems are obviously failing to cope. These chronic crises starve na-
tional and local food systems by depleting reserves that would otherwise be availa-
ble to individuals, families, villages, and countries to help improve living stand-
ards or, at least, to serve as buffers from the effects of acute crises. Examples of
chronic crises include decreasing food production per capital, desertification, de-


forestation, increasing foreign debt, and increased importation of staple foods.
Acute crises often seem to be independent of these long-term trends; identifi-
able and immediate events are seen as sufficient to cause the acute crises. A war
begins in the Ogaden between Somalia and Ethiopia, then hundreds of thousands
of refugees appear-a recognizable rapid cause and effect. The same occurs with
wars in Chad and Mozambique. The rains fail for one or two years in northern
Ethiopia or the West African Sahel, and people are driven by drought to cluster
around the capital cities and towns and even to flee to Sudan, Cameroon, and
Nigeria in search of food-immediate cause and effect. Famine of drought and
famine of war are both acute crises. Yet the severity of the popular responses, the
deaths and dislocations, and the inadequacy of national food systems to cope with
acute crises are directly linked with the more deeply rooted long-term crises. The
linkage of acute and chronic crises is often overlooked and many observers naively
believe that the acute crises are the only crises. As Robert MacNamera recently
noted, "Ironically this avalanche of compassion for the open and visible suffering
of the victims of famine-genuine as it is-has tended to obscure the more funda-
mental problems not only of the Sahelian zone itself, but of much of Sub-Saharan
Africa as a whole" (1985:12).
Although the rains may begin in northern Ethiopia, the food crisis is not over.
Even if the Eritrean war were over; the Tigrean and Ogaden regions, Angola, Chad,
and Mozambique peaceful; all of the parties to the conflicts satisfied; and all of the
refugees repatriated; the food problems in Africa would continue. Spaceship Earth
has sprung a leak in Africa. The relationships of population, food production, natu-
ral resources, reserve capital, and political and technical expertise still spell disas-
ter. The lifeboat is riding very low in the water, and the next wave-a war, drought,
locusts, disease-will sweep more people away.
Africa's population is growing faster than that of any other continent. With its
current annual growth rate of approximately 3.0 percent, the population will dou-
ble in approximately twenty-three years. Agriculture is the single largest employer
of this population. Sixty-three percent of Africa's economically active labor force
were still engaged in agriculture in 1984. This percentage has been steadily de-
creasing over the years as more people move to towns and cities or as those remain-
ing in the rural areas become involved in nonagricultural work. In many African
countries-particularly the poorer ones with less industry, mining, and other off-
farm sources of employment-80 percent or more of the labor force remains de-
voted to agriculture (see Table 1.1). Even though the percentage of the labor force
in agriculture is slowly decreasing, the rapid increase in the total size of the popula-
tion means that the total number of workers relying directly on agriculture for their
living will increase in the years to come. This statistic does not include, of course,
the additional noneconomically active people (young children, the sick and aged)
who also rely directly on agriculture for their livelihood.
Although this book focuses on problems and problemsolving, we must not
forget that the vast majority of African farmers continue to be productive. Food
production has actually increased over the years in most Sub-Saharan African


countries, as shown by the index of food production (see Table 1.1). This index is
based on each country's domestic production of food during the 1974-1976 period.
The average annual production during these years is the baseline for comparison
and has been given the value of 100; the index shows the relationship of 1984 food
production to that earlier period. A few countries have not maintained the level of
food production that they attained almost ten years ago, although a few others have
made significant increases. The real measure of self-sufficiency is not in food pro-
duction per se but in production per capital. Comparing these statistics (see Table
1.1) shows that many countries have not managed to maintain or improve their pro-
duction per capital. Many countries have failed to keep up with their increase in
population, which is a primary reason for the increase in food imports. On the other
hand, imports (and the reasons for imports) may have caused the poor performance
of the agricultural sector (see Asante and Lemarchand in this book).
Food production is obviously an essential element of the food crises, but wealthy
countries can afford to purchase the food they need. Unfortunately, Sub-Saharan
African countries are not wealthy and have already accumulated large external
debts, especially in relation to their Gross National Products, so food imports are
not a satisfactory long-term solution. These statistics are disheartening, and they
reveal some of the systemic weaknesses and long-term trends that further diminish
the stability and integrity of Africa's food systems.


How do we address these fundamental problems, and how may we better under-
stand the relationship between Africa's acute and chronic food crises? The com-
plexity of the problems and linkages demands a multifaceted and interdisciplinary
approach that is able to probe deeply into or work intensively with individual fac-
tors and relationships without losing sight of how these pieces fit together. Unfortu-
nately, such an approach is rarely, if ever, encountered. The usual research and
development approaches to food issues in Africa and elsewhere are specialized,
compartmentalized, and not integrated. National planning, research, and develop-
ment units are often in separate ministries and work independently, without any
coordination. Agricultural research and extension units are not only administra-
tively separate but often opposed and competitive, rather than cooperative.
Foreign aid is similarly fragmented. Emergency relief for acute crises is zeal-
ously guarded to prevent its use for long-term development. Development assist-
ance is packaged in projects, each of which is usually focused on one locale, as-
pect, or level and restricted to one recipient unit or ministry. The multiplicity of
projects and donors commonly overwhelms the administrative ability of the de-
veloping country and actually diminishes the effectiveness of the small number of
skilled, experienced administrators who are a critical and limited resource.
Research scientists based in universities are similarly uncoordinated in their
research efforts. Each discipline generally carries out its work independently of

TABLE 1.1. Crisis Indicators for Sub-Saharan African Countries

1984 1984 Labor in 1984 Index of 1984 Index of Food 1983 Ratio of External
Region and Population Agriculturea Food Production Production per Capita Dept to GNPb
Country (millions) (percentage) (1974-1976=100) (1974-1976=100) (percentage)

West Africa (17)
Benin 3.9 44 131 103 59
Burkina Faso 6.8 79 110 90 38
Cape Verde 0.3 54
Chad 4.9 80 107 88 44
Gambia 0.6 76 82 68
Ghana 13.0 48 96 72 28
Guinea 5.3 78 109 90 69
Guinea-Bissau 0.9 80 122 89
Ivory Coast 9.5 77 150 107 79
Liberia 2.1 67 116 86 72
Mali 7.8 85 123 99 89
Mauritania 1.8 81 122 95 158
Niger 5.9 85 130 103 49
Nigeria 92.0 50 128 95 18
Senegal 6.4 72 85 64 61
Sierra Leone 3.5 62 98 84 35
Togo 2.8 66 113 89 114

Northeast Africa (4)
Djibouti 0.4
Ethiopia 35.4 77 110 90 26
Somalia 5.4 78 110 64 62
Sudan 20.9 75 106 81 78

Central Africa (7)
Cameroon 9.5 79 101 81 27
Central Afr. Rep. 2.5 85 113 92 33
Congo 1.7 31 116 93 76
Equatorial Guinea 0.4 72

Gabon 1.1 74 119 104
Sao Tome, Principe 0.1 -- -- --
Zaire 32.1 72 123 95 92

East Africa (6)
Burundi 4.5 81 103 86 26
Kenya 19.8 76 112 77 43
Rwanda 5.9 87 139 103 14
Seychelles 0.1 -- --
Tanzania 21.7 79 128 94 59
Uganda 15.2 79 122 90 18

Southern Africa (14)
Angola 8.5 55 104 79 --
Botswana 1.0 77 84 61
Comoros 0.4 62 -- --
Lesotho 1.5 81 90 72 23
Madagascar 9.7 80 115 90 52
Malawi 6.8 81 128 97 55
Mauritius 1.0 26 96 81 --
Mozambique 13.7 60 98 70
Namibia 1.5 46 90 70
Reunion 0.6 25 128 111 --
South Africa 31.6 27 101 81
Swaziland 0.6 69 147 113 --
Zambia 6.4 64 98 74 84
Zimbabwe 8.5 57 92 67 28

Total Africa 536.9 63 116 88 52

Sources: 1984 statistics are from the 1984 FAO Production Yearbook, Food and Agriculture Organization, Rome, and
1983 statistics are from the World Development Report 1985 published by Oxford University Press for the World Bank.

aLabor represents the economically active sector of the population.
bGNP means the Gross National Product.


the others. This isolation of the disciplines is continued by the tradition of
academic departmentalization within the university system that educates profes-
sionals. Agricultural scientists focus on technical dimensions of crop and animal
production and specialize in particular species. Their work is further subdivided
by a traditional separation into breeding and genetics, soil fertility, crop production
and management, animal husbandry, and control of diseases, insects, weeds, and
nematodes. Meteorologists, foresters, ecologists, and wildlife biologists investi-
gate the weather and the state of natural resources, often in isolation from the ag-
ricultural scientists. Social scientists study socioeconomic dimensions of produc-
tion and distribution of products and income, including varying sociopolitical
access to productive resources, as well as pricing, marketing, and other national
policy issues. Food scientists and nutritionists concentrate on processing, storage,
and the real "bottom line"-food consumption and the quantitative and qualitative
adequacy of supplies. Seldom do these disciplines interact in any sustained manner
to address the complexities of African food issues, a tendency that is also evident
in most textbooks and even edited reference books on African or Third World food
and development topics. A notable exception is the multidisciplinary volume, The
Politics ofNatural Disaster: The Case of the Sahel Drought (Glantz 1976).
Although disciplinary specialization is an essential element of agricultural re-
search, it is associated with the loss of the integrated (generalist or interdiscipli-
nary) capacity to see how specialized diagnoses and proposed solutions interrelate
with one another, as well as with the wider ecological, socioeconomic, and politi-
cal context in which the production, distribution, and consumption of food take
place. This book offers an integrated multidisciplinary perspective on African food
issues. In its entirety, the volume is a message about the complexity of contempo-
rary food issues and about how different disciplines fit together to offer insights
and to provide useful information. Fifteen disciplines are represented here from
the natural, production, and social sciences. Almost all of the authors have worked
in Africa and are continuing to work there; all are concerned with Africa's people,
with what lies behind the current events and acute emergencies, with the Africa
that seldom or never makes the news. This type of broad, interdisciplinary perspec-
tive is important for anyone involved in teaching, administration, or research on
African food issues who wants a vantage point for seeing the interrelationships
among domains of expertise and policy concern.


Although the entire book is an integrated statement, it is divided into five parts,
and different readers may be most interested in using various parts or chapters as
introductions to unfamiliar data, areas, or perspectives. Each of the five parts of
the book may be used as a separate set of readings to complement a reader's current
expertise or as supplemental readings in university courses. All of the contributing
authors have written in a manner intelligible to people in other disciplines and to


nonacademics, i.e., jargon has been minimized or eliminated. In addition to the
usual scholarly citations in the text, each author has also suggested a short list of
articles and books that are readily accessible for those readers who are new to the
material or perspective presented in that chapter; a list is appended to each chapter.
References that are cited in the text are collected into a common bibliography at the
end of the book.
In the four chapters that constitute the first part, political scientists and
economists provide a general overview at the level of policy and also compare
theoretical and disciplinary perspectives. S.K.B. Asante introduces the concept of
food policy, and four levels (global, continental, regional, and national) of policy
responses to food crises are discussed. He considers the overevaluation of national
currency exchange rates to be the most devastating national policy in terms of de-
pressing agricultural production.
Ren6 Lemarchand examines the political economy of food, beginning with
the effects of colonial policies. Various interpretations of the peasant mode of pro-
duction are contrasted, and the ideological differences between supposedly
socialist and supposedly capitalist states appear less important than the forms of
smallholder social organization, the elite manipulation of their market advantage,
and external constraints.
John Staatz and Carl Eicher describe the theoretical evolution since 1950 of
development economics, focusing on the changing perception of agriculture and
the interplay between theory and experience. From the 1950s to the 1960s, the em-
phasis was on investment in industry; agriculture was viewed as a passive cow to
be milked and smallholder labor was viewed as a free good. African leaders and
other Third World leaders based their countries' development on these theories and
were disappointed by the results-the need to develop agriculture became more
apparent. As the authors trace this evolution, we realize how much these theories
have influenced the direction that many Third World governments followed in the
design of policies and investment priorities.
Sara Berry begins her review of the social science literature on food in Africa
with a much-needed reminder about the weakness of the data on which discussions
of food crises are based (including the data in Table 1.1). She examines a broad
range of sociopolitical, socioeconomic, and ecological studies, then clarifies the
major directions and perspectives in this diverse body of knowledge.
The second part contains five chapters written by historians, anthropologists,
and a meteorologist to provide an introduction to Africa for readers who are un-
familiar with the continent, its resources, climate, and people. The heterogeneity
of Africa, the existence and relevance of historical patterns in climate and politics,
and the importance of socioeconomic factors are revealed in these chapters.
Charles Guthrie emphasizes a number of dimensions of the African environment-
size, political regions, climatic and vegetation patterns, and agricultural sys-
tems-thereby demonstrating the heterogeneity and diversity of Sub-Saharan Af-
rica. Population growth and distribution and economic patterns are described, as is
the importance of ethnicity, language, and religion to individual and group iden-


tity. Africa is seen to be sociopolitically dynamic.
Sharon Nicholson describes long-term climatic fluctuations in Sub-Saharan
Africa, providing an important time depth for recent drought periods. Her fascinat-
ing data reveal that droughts are "an inherent characteristic of the environment";
they must be seen as normal events that recur at irregular intervals and must be
included in development planning and policy decisions. Daniel McGee points out
that the existence of natural resources is only one dimension; another dimension is
the technology that people choose to use to exploit these resources. He outlines
four basic land-use systems or subsistence strategies-agriculture, herding, fish-
ing, and hunting and gathering--each has been associated with characteristic ways
to organize people and their labor.
The "ways of feeling, believing, and behaving" that are indigenous to Sub-
Saharan Africa are defined and described by Ronald Cohen. Although contempo-
rary African societies are complex and contain many features that are not tradi-
tional in Africa, married and family life and larger sociopolitical relationships
continue to be strongly influenced by indigenous principles and patterns. Agricul-
tural and socioeconomic development programs are usually based on the indi-
vidual or the household, but it is naive to assume that these behave entirely accord-
ing to Western economic principles and to ignore their embeddedness in traditional
social formations. R. Hunt Davis, Jr. examines in depth a controversial topic al-
luded to by many other contributors: the importance of the colonial experiences as
causes of contemporary food crises. He places the colonial period in a longer his-
torical context, documenting the precolonial origins of cash cropping and discus-
sing the postcolonial continuation of many colonial policies.
The third part gives readers from the socioeconomic and policy sciences an
opportunity to appreciate the empirical and analytical concerns of technical scien-
tists. Four chapters cover a wide range of technical issues dealing with food pro-
duction. The contributors, representing the disciplines of soil science, agronomy,
horticulture, agricultural economics, animal science, anthropology, and dairy sci-
ence, point out that there are many technical problems that have not yet been
solved. Hugh Popenoe addresses the soil types found in Africa and the interaction
of soils, plants, climate, and management. Soil fertility and erosion are major con-
cerns, as are policy questions dealing with self-sustainability, industrial inputs,
and the advantages of smaller versus larger farms. Clifton Hiebsch and Stephen
O'Hair clarify the nutritional characteristics, geographic distribution, and produc-
tion requirements and constraints of the major food crops, both by category (cereal
grains, farinaceous, and legume grains) and by individual species. James Simpson
and Robert McDowell describe the economic and nutritional importance of
domestic livestock and their byproducts, as well as the production systems and
constraints found in Africa. Michael McGlothlen, Paul Goldsmith, and Charles
Fox discuss the most underrated sources of food in Africa-undomesticated ani-
mals and plants. They document the importance of these food sources, the need
for additional research, and the integration of this information into national food
planning and development.


The four chapters in the fourth part of this book rectify another common imbal-
ance in discussions of African food and famine. All too often the only issue dis-
cussed is production; the critical importance of distribution, storage, preparation,
consumption patterns, and nutritional needs are ignored. Robert P. Bates begins
this section by examining postharvest considerations as one element in the food
chain. OliviaWebley points out the importance of fuelwood in converting crop and
animal products into food, and she clarifies the relationship between deforestation
and food crises. One of the editors addresses questions of intra- and interhousehold
distributions. Many observers consider farmers to be organized in self-sufficient
households, so that the only distributional concern is how to move their surplus
food to the cities. Based on her research in Burkina Faso, Della McMillan details
the complexity and social embeddedness of the ways that rural people gain access
to productive resources, especially land and labor, and to the food that is produced.
She also questions the usefulness of the household concept as a basis for develop-
ment planning because of intrahousehold and suprahousehold decisionmaking and
distribution patterns. A discussion by Patricia Wagner on human nutritional needs
and the relationship of nutrition, diet, health, and performance follows.
In the final four chapters in the fifth part, ways in which Africans and interna-
tional development agencies are working toward solutions to food crises are ad-
dressed. Donald Plucknett, Nigel Smith, and Robert Herdt describe the evolution
and work of the international agricultural research centers, important resources in
themselves and designed to support and encourage strong national research and
extension programs. Louise Fresco and Susan Poats define and discuss farming
systems research and extension, an innovative approach to understanding the prob-
lems confronting African farmers and to establishing effective working relation-
ships among farmers and research and extension staffs. This approach provides a
methodology for more practical research and more integrated research and exten-
sion. Anita Spring presents another way in which a better understanding of the
socioeconomic characteristics of African agriculture will contribute to more effec-
tive policies and development programs. Women are extremely important in Afri-
can agriculture, both as laborers and as decisionmakers; yet research and develop-
ment are guided by mistaken Western beliefs about "the farmer and his wife,"
which serve to block women's access to information and other resources that would
help women increase their effectiveness as farmers.
A discussion by Robert Browne and Robert Cummings completes the book by
returning to the level of national and international policy that was the subject of the
first chapters. In this final chapter, as in others throughout the book, the clear mes-
sage is that Africans and African initiatives are the bases for progress. Africa has
problems, both acute and chronic, and these problems must be addressed by Afri-
cans in order for any meaningful policies to be formulated and implemented. The
Lagos Plan of Action is a long-range plan agreed to by the African heads of state to
restructure African economies. Browne and Cummings compare the plan to the
World Bank's program, as described in the 1981 Berg Report, which addresses
more immediate concerns.


The problems and constraints that Africans confront are difficult and intri-
cately interrelated. We hope that this book illuminates that there are no simple so-
lutions nor facile understandings.

Food as a Focus of National
and Regional Policies in
Contemporary Africa


T he disappointing performance of Africa's food and agricultural sector, result-
ing in what is now termed a continental African food crisis, has continued to oc-
cupy the attention of the international community, African governments,
policymakers, and academics during the 1970s and 1980s. Concern over the mag-
nitude and complexity of this crisis has evoked policy responses and declarations
at four levels. At the global level, the 1974 United Nations (UN) World Food Con-
ference was entrusted with developing ways and means whereby the international
community, as a whole, could take specific action to resolve the world food prob-
lem within the broad context of development and international cooperation. The
conference produced an impressive declaration on the eradication of hunger and
malnutrition (UN 1975:64). At the continental level, collective African policy
within the framework of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) is articulated in
the very first substantial chapter of the 1980 Lagos Plan ofAction, the 1984 Harare
Declaration of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Addis Ababa
OAU Declaration, and the 1985 OAU Declaration "Africa's Priority Program for
Economic Recovery, 1986-1990" (OAU 1981, 1984, 1985; FAO 1984). At the
African regional level, groups such as the Economic Community of West African
States (ECOWAS) express their responses to the crisis in their respective food and
agricultural programs; at the national level, responses to the crises are stressed in
the development plans of individual African countries.
This four-pronged policy response reflects the magnitude of Africa's food
problem. The problem is even more alarming when it is considered that Sub-
Saharan Africa is the only region in the world where per capital food production has
declined during the past two decades. Food self-sufficiency ratios had dropped
from 98 percent in the 1960s to around 86 percent by 1980, implying that, on the
average, each African had 12 percent less home grown food in 1980 than twenty
years earlier (Economic Commission for Africa 1983:8; World Bank 1984:10-11).
This disappointing performance in agriculture and in food production reflects a


very serious situation because this sector, the mainstay in most African economies,
makes the single largest contribution (40 to 60 percent) to the gross domestic prod-
uct and provides over 50 percent of the export earnings of most African countries
(Hinderink and Sterkenberg 1983:1). Although this contribution varies among
countries, it remains, in most countries, the single most important generator of
overall economic growth and any sustained future development, including the sup-
ply of capital, raw materials, and labor for industrialization. Hence the food ques-
tion is inextricably entwined with the general problems of agriculture and eco-
nomic development in Africa, and no government can afford to ignore the social
and political disruptions caused by food production failures on this scale.
Not surprisingly, the causes and remedies of Africa's agrarian malaise have
been the subject of wide-ranging debate among experts and policymakers. This
debate has, in turn, given rise to a series of such crucial and challenging questions
as the following: How did Africa's food situation come to be in such a thoroughly
disturbing and perilous state? What are the root causes of food deficits of this mag-
nitude? Why has food proved to be so intractable a problem? Why has the "tempo-
rary" resort to food imports become a permanent feature of Africa's food trade?
How have African governments intervened in the food and agricultural sector? Put
differently, what policies have been adopted at both national and regional levels to
deal with the problem? What are the components or objectives of these policies?
Finally, what prospect for solving the crisis do these policies offer?
These questions cannot be conclusively answered here. To throw light on
some of them, this chapter focuses attention primarily on the key issue of national
and regional food policies of African countries since independence. Because re-
gional approaches to food problems in Africa are a relatively recent phenomenon,
national policies receive wider coverage and emphasis. Before considering these
policies, it seems appropriate to set the stage with a brief review of the concept of
food policy, its rationale, scope, and objectives.


Food policy (variously termed national food plan, national food strategy, national
food security scheme, or national agriculture and nutrition plan) at its core consti-
tutes an integrative policy approach to food production, distribution, and consump-
tion, encompassing the broad economic and social policies and reforms that affect
the wider distribution of income and people's access to food. In other words, this
is a policy which, as a recent World Bank publication puts it, encompasses the col-
lective efforts of governments to "influence the decision making environment of
food producers, food consumers, and food marketing agents in order to further
social objectives" (Timmer et al. 1983:9). Generally, this policy serves as a
mechanism to give institutional expression to the priority for food and the elimina-
tion of hunger, transcending the sometimes sharp, sectoral demarcations in na-
tional decisionmaking.


Food policy is first and foremost a political act. It is political to the extent that
it is aimed primarily at placing (or replacing) a country's food and nutrition prob-
lems, along with other aspects of development, on a scale of priorities-at the top
of the list if necessary. It is also a political act because the strategy is not just one
more policy document. Food policy must be designed and presented to mobilize
promotion for the policy not only in the administration, but also, and most impor-
tantly, among the first to be concerned-the peasants or food producers them-
selves. Therefore, it is important to get the rural population as involved in the de-
sign and implementation of food policy as possible. Food policy has to define and
plan the implementation of measures that give national producers, including fisher-
men and herdsmen, the economic and social incentives and the security they need
to go beyond subsistence farming and help meet the needs of the country as a
whole. Basically, food policy should involve the rural world in a development pro-
cess that will be self-sustaining in the long run.
National food policy in most societies is designed to achieve four basic objec-
tives: efficient growth in the food and agricultural sectors, job creation, a decent,
minimum standard-of-living, and security against famine or extreme food short-
ages (Timmer et al. 1983:14-15). The emphasis placed on each objective varies by
country and over time; the importance of each objective reflects the contribution of
each to a nation's health and welfare and, implicitly, to its political stability. From
this perspective, understanding the causes of Africa's food problem should lead to
better policy.
Amaryta Sen has succinctly remarked, "There is, indeed, no such thing as an
apolitical food problem" (Sen 1982:459). Regardless of the variety of perspectives
permeating the literature, it is increasingly apparent that the poor performance of
African agriculture cannot be attributed to physical constraints or infrastructural
defects. The key to Africa's agrarian malaise seems to lie ultimately in government
policies over the years. Agricultural, food, and other rural policies set by govern-
ments are crucially important in creating incentives and in shaping the economic
environment within which food producers operate. Given much needed incentives
and realistic policy directives, physical and biological constraints are not factors
that farmers are unable to transcend (Bates 1981:2; Tarrant 1980:45). Theodore
Schultz has gone as far as to argue that "incentives to guide and reward farmers are
a critical component" in food production. And, once there "are investment oppor-
tunities and efficient incentives, farmers will turn sand into gold" (Schultz
1964:5). Although this may seem a little oversimplified, the significance of
Schultz's argument may hardly be disputed. Undoubtedly, it is the "complex web
of interrelationships between Africa's agricultural markets and government
policies" that, more than anything else, has created the present agrarian malaise
(Scarlett 1981:175). Markets and government policies have not received much at-
tention in the literature, probably because they are complex and because pro-
nouncements concerning them are more "politically volatile" than are evaluations
of technical and physical problems (Scarlett 1981:175). But it is precisely within
this more controversial arena that understanding of Africa's food problems must be


sought and future research areas and policy reforms must be identified.


The food problem in Africa has deeper historical roots than are usually ap-
preciated. (For details about these roots see Davis in this volume.) Food was not a
priority area for capital investment during the entire colonial period (Eicher
1982:157-58; Tandon 1981:86-88; E. Hansen 1981:103-105; Dinham and Hines
1984:17-20). Land, labor, and other resources of the colonies were diverted away
from food and into the production of industrial raw materials. Infrastructural de-
velopments that took place in Sub-Saharan Africa during this period, and for al-
most fifteen years after independence, were mainly to service the production,
transportation, and marketing of industrial crops; after independence, develop-
ments also included the creation of import substitution industries (Tandon
1981:88). Throughout this period, little attention was paid to investments in human
capital, i.e., the training of African agricultural scientists and managers, or to re-
search on food crops or to strengthening internal market linkages. Research on ex-
port crops was more intensive and generally more productive. Virtually all the
peasants-practically the whole population-were "left pretty much to their own
devices to feed themselves" (Tandon 1981:88). There was no food policy or organi-
zation to encourage food production.
Colonial agricultural policy-indeed, the inherited structure of most
economies as a whole-has not been appreciably altered by the successive African
elites. Since independence, the agricultural strategies of almost all African coun-
tries, especially regarding the food subsector, have been generally laissez faire:
They have allowed the status quo to prevail (Dittch 1981:53). It is not suggested
that African governments have not intervened in agriculture. On the contrary, they
have intervened extensively and have exhibited a wide range of diversity in the
extent of government intervention in food systems. Despite differences in policy
choice and priorities, African countries have stressed the great importance of ag-
riculture both in their official pronouncements and in their development plans.
These plans, in almost identical terms, acknowledge the overriding need to in-
crease and diversify agricultural output, to achieve self-sufficiency in food supply,
and to raise rural income and living standards (Hinderink and Sterkenberg 1983:6).
Although such stated policies for increasing food production reflect a growing
commitment to the agricultural sector, the implementation of these policies is often
thwarted, inter alia, by changing government priorities and developmental de-
Another common factor worth stressing is related to the general approach of
African governments to the agricultural sector. Whereas the approach of developed
countries to agriculture may be called "the integrative view," which sees this sector
as more or less an equal partner with industry and other sectors of society, in the
Third World and in Africa in particular, the approach to agriculture may be called


"the exploitative view." This perspective does not accept the agricultural sector as
an equal partner with other sectors of development. Rather, it sees this sector as a
subservient one to be exploited for urban industrialization (Clute 1982:1-2). As
Robert H. Bates observed:

To secure revenues to promote industry, African states seek taxes from agricul-
ture. By maintaining a sheltered industrial order, they generate economic benefits
for elites, as well as resources for winning the political backing of influential
groups in the urban centers. To safeguard their urban-industrial base, they seek
low-cost food. This aim therefore leads them to intervene in markets and to at-
tempt to depress the level of farm prices (Bates 1981:120).

Leaders and governments throughout Africa, whether civilian or military,
capitalist or socialist, generally view agriculture as a backward sector that should
be exploited and controlled in order to provide agricultural surpluses, taxes and
labor, and to finance structural change and industrial/urban development. There
exists, therefore, a striking similarity between the colonial policy that exploited
the resources of colonial territories to develop the metropolis and the national pol-
icy that now exploits the resources of the countryside to develop the urban cities.
This is reflected in various aspects of agricultural and food policies adopted by
African governments since attaining independence.

Public Investment in Agriculture

Allocation of public investments to the food and agricultural sector merits special
attention in any discussion of national food policy in Africa as this underscores the
low priority assigned to this sector over the years. A recent review of government
expenditure policy by the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) concluded that
African governments "have not been backing up their avowed food self-
sufficiency objectives by increased allocation of public resources" (ECA 1984).
This is reinforced by the FAO's "Interim Report on Constraints on Food Produc-
tion," which shows the extent to which expenditures of African governments on
agriculture from domestic resources have tended to decline in real terms (FAO
1983a). Intercountry comparisons are not easy to come by, owing to definitional,
data, and measurement problems. However, in the 1970s around 10 percent or less
of planned development expenditure was allocated to the agricultural sectors in
Kenya and Mali, as compared with 31 percent in India during the first five-year-
plan in 1951 and 20 percent of the much larger absolute investment in the sub-
sequent three plans (Lele 1984:440). By way of contrast, in both Ghana and
Nigeria the commitment to agricultural development has been merely verbal.
Ghana allocated a mere 7 percent of public investments to the agricultural sector
during 1974-1976. Nigeria's Second (1970-1974) and Third (1975-1979) De-
velopment Plans showed a distinct industrial bias. In the latter plan, less than 6
percent of total expenditure, recurrent and capital, was reserved for agriculture,


despite professed belief in its important role (Hinderink and Sterkenberg 1983:6-
This relative neglect of agriculture has resulted in little research on food crops,
weakly staffed extension services for food farming, and inadequate investments in
farm-to-market transportation. Many areas of potentially significant surpluses re-
main cut off from urban consumers and, hence, producers have no incentive to
produce in surplus of family and social needs. In addition, the emphasis on exports
(the cash-crop syndrome) inherited from the colonial era has meant that the meager
public investment allocated to agriculture goes into the development of the export
sector. Overwhelming emphasis on this sector adversely affects food production.
The case of tobacco as a cash crop in Tanzania is illustrative of the adverse impact
of the cash-crop syndrome on the food-production sector. The success of the Tan-
zanian government's special program in the 1970s to encourage the growing of
tobacco in Mpanda resulted in rapid decline in local maize production from 1,110
tons in 1969-1970 to 131 tons in 1974-1975, while tobacco production increased
from 184 tons to 310 tons. Mpanda thus became dependent on imports of maize
(U.S. Department of Agriculture 1981:165, as cited in Clute 1982:10-11). A signif-
icant feature of the cash-crop syndrome is the willingness of African governments
to undercut the interests of food producers in order to promote cash cropping.
Rather than harnessing the traditional agricultural system as a tool in development,
government policies have often been exploitative and antitraditional. Nowhere is
this more clearly demonstrated than in pricing policies.

Pricing Policy

Keeping food prices low is a standard government technique generally accepted by
observers as the fundamental cause of the continent-wide problem of food deficits.
Unlike many countries in Asia where there are guaranteed floor prices for farm
produce, in most African countries producer prices for domestic food products are
not guaranteed. In Indonesia promotion of rice output is complemented and
strengthened by the government rice pricing policy, which guarantees the farmer a
minimum price for his product while also taking into consideration the limited pur-
chasing power of the consumers at large (Amat 1982:145). In most African coun-
tries, food pricing policies are consumer-oriented. Prices are fixed at a low level
that favors consumers, mostly urban consumers, and deters producers from in-
creasing their efforts. Policy motivations have been more political than economic,
reflecting the expediency of responding to urban elites who are more visible even
if less numerous than rural farmers. Low food prices are a means of maintaining
the support of the urban masses whose violent demonstrations and riots, often
against rising food prices, can provide the catalyst for a coup d'etat. The April 1979
rice riots in Monrovia led to the ousting of the Tolbert regime in Liberia in 1980
(Asante 1984); the April 1985 demonstrations in Khartoum culminated in the over-
throw of the government of President Gaafar el-Nimeiry of Sudan.


Due to the vulnerability of governments to urban pressure, food imports are
subsidized to keep prices low, and domestic food prices are reduced through the
operation of government-controlled marketing institutions and the manipulation
of trade policies. Bates noted that:
agricultural policy is devised to cope with political problems whose immediate
origins lie outside of the agricultural sector. Pricing policy finds its origins in the
struggle between urban interests and their governments; and in the political recon-
ciliation of that struggle, it is the rural producers who bear the costs; they are the
ones who bear the burden of policies designed to lower the price of food (Bates
The mirror image of urban pressure for cheap food is production stagnation,
or unsatisfactory performance in the agricultural sector. Agricultural pricing
policies of African governments tend to have an adverse impact on the gap between
rural and urban incomes and on incentives to produce food. They also affect the
ability of governments to establish and maintain food reserves, and they disturb
employment opportunities in farming, processing, and rural industries (Eicher and
Baker 1982:59).
Of all the governmental policies which have had a negative impact upon the
agricultural sector, none has had more devastating consequences than the general
tendency of African governments to overvalue the exchange rates of their curren-
cies. This practice has set in motion a whole set of "powerful disincentives to ag-
ricultural growth" to which the Berg Report of the World Bank, Accelerated De-
velopment in Sub-Saharan Africa: An Agenda for Action, has drawn attention in
recent years (World Bank 1981:24-27). Overvalued currencies have made food
imports artificially cheap in relation to domestic production, and price policies
have often been criticized for failing to stimulate domestic production. These two
factors, together with a marked shift in consumer tastes in favor of "new" foods
that are not well suited to domestic production such as bread, and in some cases
rice, have led to a growing dependence on imports to satisfy the demands of politi-
cally powerful groups. Food aid, through which population groups may have been
introduced to nontraditional foods, has at times contributed to this shift in con-
sumer preferences. In some cases, imported farm inputs such as tools, machinery,
and agrochemicals have been made more expensive or restricted in their supply in
order to protect infant, domestic industries; in some cases, the incentive for farm-
ers to produce a surplus for sale has been reduced by the limited availability of
imported consumer goods, once again to protect domestic industries. The opera-
tion of government-controlled marketing agencies is another policy constraint ad-
versely affecting food production.

State Marketing Boards

Marketing boards, or parastatal institutions, in many countries have grown into
monopolies controlling agricultural input and output as well as marketing and pro-


cessing. These boards operate as a means of controlling trade, regulating prices,
enforcing grading standards, and directing operations within national borders.
They have incurred added costs to the consumer, reduced returns to the producer,
and also stifled initiatives to keep costs down and provide improved services.
These parastatals appear to lack the purchasing networks, pricing policies, and
other means needed to secure large quantities of foodstuffs relative to consumption
needs (Nicholson and Esseks 1978:694). Colin Leys cited the case of Kenya's
Maize and Produce Marketing Board, which proved itself unequal to the respon-
sibilities entrusted to it during the drought periods of 1965 and 1970-1971; Lynn
Scarlett stressed the tendency of marketing boards to encourage black market sales
and impede the operation of market signals regarding supply and demand (Leys
1974:106-107; Scarlett 1981:181). The widespread appearance of state farms, the
government-directed cooperatives, and the so-called green revolution have not im-
proved the food production situation.

State Farms and Crash Programs

State farms and crash programs proliferated in the past two decades as means of
promoting agricultural production by pooling rural resources, introducing farming
inputs and techniques, and improving rural incomes. Evidence suggests that none
has realized its objectives (Delancey 1980:109-122; Gusau 1981:19-22; Clute
1982:12). Barry Munslow recently studied Mozambique's huge investments in the
state farm sector that failed to produce the hoped-for bumper harvests (Munslow
1984:211). Ghana launched state farms in the 1960s with a total work force of
20,800 and a budgetary allocation of approximately 90 percent of the total agricul-
tural development budget; they were a gigantic failure. The Agricultural Develop-
ment Corporation, which managed most of the 135 state farms, accumulated a loss
of $4 million by 1964, $7 million by 1965, and over $9 million by 1966 (Bates
1981:46-47; Dittch 1981:54). State, community, and cooperative farms and settle-
ments are often inappropriate, expensive, and not directed at the productive forces
in the economy-the peasant farmers. Large-scale schemes divert attention and
cash from the underlying problems of rural poverty and inadequate infrastructure,
which affect the majority of Africa's farming population. A classic example of this
process in Zambia was illustrated by Barbara Dinham and Colin Hines (Dinham
and Hines 1984:146-147). Crash programs such as Nigeria's "Operation Feed the
Nation" or Ghana's "Operation Feed Yourself" are launched with great fanfare and
end in "crash failure" (E. Hansen 1981:99-115).
In theory, the small farmer is the cornerstone and major beneficiary of the var-
ious crash programs. In practice, however, there is a distinct bias against the small-
holder sector, comprising over 90 percent of all producers, because of a wide-
spread belief among planners and policymakers that peasant farmers cannot
achieve the desired overall increases in output and keep pace with population
growth. Instead of tackling the underlying causes of the problems facing peasant


farmers-low farm prices and poor marketing, storage, and distribution systems-
many African governments choose to initiate crash programs that are not based on
an analytical understanding of the problems at hand. These programs have great
emotional and political appeal, especially if cast in a rhetoric for mass consump-
tion that oversimplifies complex problems. Yet food problems are extraordinarily
complicated, and politically expedient short-term interventions frequently have
devastating long-term consequences. The greater the short-term pressures to im-
plement a program, the greater the probability that the program will have effects
just opposite to those intended. Crash programs tend to crash.
Although the small farmer is neglected, public food production schemes tend
to confer benefits on and promote the fortunes of a few privileged farmers. Ghana's
"Operation Feed Yourself," launched in February 1972, promoted the rise of a
wealthy "farmer" class of military men and high-ranking bureaucrats and their bus-
iness friends who owned large-scale enterprises. In contrast, the smallholder sec-
tor was discriminated against and suffered heavily from the increasingly unfavora-
ble food pricing policy and many other aspects of the program. Yet experience in
Malawi, Kenya, Zimbabwe, and other countries demonstrates that smallholders
respond to economic incentives with significant production increases if they have
access to markets, services, and improved cultivation technology (Williams
State farms are established to produce food as well as other agricultural prod-
ucts; however, evidence shows that food is seldom a priority. The cash-crop syn-
drome still dominates. Emmanuel Hansen analyzed the case of Ghana's state farms
and found that they devoted only 40 percent of acreage to food crops and paid seri-
ous attention only to rice and maize (E. Hansen 1981:107). Similarly, despite pub-
lic declarations to the contrary, the priority of Ghana's "Operation Feed Yourself"
was still on export and industrial crops. Moreover, although Ghana's state farms in
the 1960s consumed a significant proportion of the public agricultural budget, they
nonetheless supplied a small fraction of the total market. John Dadson showed that
they provided less than two percent of the total marketed output of most com-
modities (Dadson 1970, as cited in Bates 1981:49).
The emphasis on large-scale, capitalized, and mechanized farms since the
mid-1970s introduces a more serious problem to Africa's food production policies.
The scarcity of high-quality management and imported inputs has led to an in-
creased dependence on foreign expertise and diverse foreign involvement
in capital-intensive food production in many African countries, notably Benin,
Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Mozambique, Sudan, Tanzania, and Togo.
Hence, transnational agribusiness has been brought into the domestic food sector
in Africa (Dinham and Hines 1984:144). In Nigeria, for example, transnational
corporations are invited to participate in large-scale food production envisaged in
the Green Revolution launched in 1981. The Nigerian Enterprises Promotion Act
was amended in 1981 to encourage private, foreign investment in agriculture to as
much as 60 percent of the equity (Hinderink and Sterkenberg 1983:91). Africa may
be moving towards deepening dependency in the food sector. Against this back-


ground, the regional approach based on the strategy of collective self-reliance, as
espoused in both the Lagos Plan ofAction and the July 1978 FAO Regional Food
Plan for Africa, merits special attention (OAU 1981: FAO 1978b:ii-ix).


The 1974 world food crisis and its severe impact on Africa have strengthened in-
terest in regional approaches to the food problem. Hence, the regional integration
schemes established in Africa since then have each devoted special attention to
food. Among these regional schemes is ECOWAS, which was established in Lagos
in May 1975 to bring together sixteen West African countries. Besides ECOWAS
there are the nine-member Southern African Development Coordination Confer-
ence (SADCC), which was formally inaugurated in Lusaka, Zambia, in April
1980; the Preferential Trade Area for Eastern and Southern African States (PTA),
which was also concluded in Lusaka in December 1981 by nine out of the potential
eighteen states; and the Economic Community of the States of Central Africa
(CEEAC), established in Libreville, Gabon, in October 1983.
In response to the target of self-sufficiency in food production contained in
the Lagos Plan ofAction, ECOWAS adopted in May 1980 an elaborate agricultural
program comprising four sectors. In order of priority these sectors are: food crops,
livestock, fisheries, and forestry. The main program objectives are to fight the seri-
ous subregional food problems, improve rural incomes and living conditions, and
provide necessary inputs to the community's industrial program. The 1982
ECOWAS summit in Cotonou, Benin, reinforced this program by adopting the
ECOWAS Agricultural Development Strategy, a blueprint for agricultural develop-
ment in the subregion. This was given a further impetus by the May 1983 Conakry,
Guinea, ECOWAS meeting and, especially, by the November 1984 ECOWAS
Heads of State and Government summit in Lome, Togo, which, in an important
resolution on economic recovery in West Africa, adopted measures to rationalize
regional production so as to achieve food self-sufficiency (ECOWAS 1984).
The question that poses itself is this: To what extent have the West African
countries attempted to transform the food policies and programs of ECOWAS from
a political slogan into a framework for policy and action? Although ECOWAS
began initiating food strategies in 1980, the Community has not implemented any
of its food policies, and no conscious effort has been made at the regional level to
link recognition of problems with the measures and resources required for their
solution (Asante 1985).
Although PTA, which was finally launched in Harare in July 1984, has not yet
advanced much beyond ratification of its treaty, SADCC seems to have made some
substantial progress towards implementing its projects for "enhancing the produc-
tivity of the land on a permanent basis, and towards national and regional food
policies" (SADCC 1984:9). The SADCC food security program includes three
main objectives: (1) satisfying the basic need for food for the region's population,


and progressively improving food supplies to all the people, irrespective of their
specific economic situation or their position in society; (2) achieving national self-
sufficiency in food supplies in order to free the region from constraints imposed by
the present situation of external dependence; and (3) eliminating the periodic food
crises in the region that have catastrophic social consequences and reinforce de-
pendency and underdevelopment (Mafeje 1985).
Given the region's present stage of development, SADCC's economic strategy
aims to reinforce national and regional production capacity. Particular attention fo-
cuses on the following: regionally producing and distributing seeds; reproducing
livestock; producing tools, agricultural equipment, agrochemicals, and other in-
puts; and improving infrastructure necessary for input distribution at national and
regional levels. The second aim is to improve systems for delivery, conservation,
processing, and storage of food. SADCC has initiated policies for the prevention
of food crises. These involve five main elements: implementing an early-warning
system, preventing plagues and diseases, creating regional food security reserves,
creating seed stocks for basic food crops, and, finally, establishing regional
mechanisms to coordinate external support in times of emergency (Asante 1986).
On the whole, SADCC is much more advanced in implementing its regional food
policies than any of the other existing African regional integration schemes. It has
made detailed studies of regional food marketing and a regional resources informa-
tion system, and is coordinating its technical assistance program for agrarian
Nevertheless, African regional schemes have not been as dynamic and pro-
gressive in adopting and implementing regional food policies as have been those
schemes in other developing areas such as Asia. By the mid-1970s, for example,
the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) had agreed to establish an
emergency food supply facility known as the ASEAN Food Security Reserve. Be-
cause the international community has failed to establish such a facility at the
global level, although the United Nations World Food Conference in Rome in 1974
recommended establishing one, such a facility organized by ASEAN represents a
particularly innovative step towards international food security (Hanpongpandh
1982:281-306). Are the African regional schemes able to learn from the ASEAN


Evidence suggests that food policies in contemporary Africa, at both the national
and regional levels, have not been designed to deal effectively with the issues of
food production, rural-employment generation, domestic-food price formation,
and efficient storage, transportation, and processing. A thorough reform of policies
toward agriculture in Africa is long overdue. Policy change is required in the area
of public-investment allocations to agriculture. Government inputs into agricul-
ture and rural development are extremely low, rarely designed to assist the tradi-


tional farmer, and tend to favor so-called modem schemes such as state farms,
cooperatives, and large-scale mechanized farms, which have not been viable or
productive. There is a need to allocate adequate resources to support agricultural
production at all levels, especially because a higher government priority to agricul-
ture is a requirement for more assistance from the international community.
Whereas there is indiscriminate government intervention in some policy
areas, others are neglected, namely agricultural research, extension networks, de-
velopment of trained manpower, and establishment of effective institutions and de-
livery systems to assist in distribution and marketing. Food policies will not be
successfully implemented over the long term unless adequate institutions and
trained manpower are available to monitor and oversee policy implementation.
Lack of sufficient manpower and institutions has often been the bottleneck in slow-
ing down the implementation process. Any program, no matter how beautifully
designed, is only as good as the ability to make it work in the field. Increased atten-
tion to training, public management, and sustained institutional support are, there-
fore, top priorities.
An option for policy change that is likely to offer the highest returns in a rela-
tively short time is an incentive policy package that combines establishment of
improved incentive systems through more remunerative producer prices, more effi-
cient marketing systems, and sufficient and timely supplies of inputs and con-
sumer goods. In this regard, pricing policy merits special attention. Effective price
policy is the most essential element in a program to increase agricultural produc-
tion. There is no substitute for positive price incentives to the agricultural sector
based on long-term opportunity costs (Timmer et al. 1983:290). The first element
of an agricultural policy, therefore, is to fix guaranteed agricultural prices and set
up a system that ensures that the peasant farmer will, in fact, obtain these prices.
Such an incentive policy package would probably contribute more to domestic
food self-reliance than an infusion of crash food production projects that risk falter-
ing in the absence of sound policies.
The need to strengthen the fragile subsistence sector may not be overem-
phasized. Too often in the past the needs of the subsistence farmer have been over-
looked by policymakers. Yet the peasant farmer is, and will remain, the principal
participant in any agricultural policy and the principal organizer of the rural sector.
The development of smallholder agriculture is therefore essential. Because of its
share in national output and total employment, this subsector holds the key to ag-
ricultural and overall progress. Increasingly, it is being recognized that African
smallholders respond to economic opportunities and, given the right incentives
and income generating opportunities, he and she are quite prepared to change and
modernize (Pallangyo and Odero-Ogwel, in press).
Policy change is also required at the regional level. There are a number of im-
portant activities in support of food and agricultural development that lend them-
selves to easier forms of cooperation at the regional level. These include the de-
velopment of regional natural resources such as river basins, transfer of technol-
ogy, food storage, marketing, agricultural research and training, and investment


and finance. Regional schemes offer considerable potential for action to increase
food production through intergovernmental organizations for land-and-water-
resources development, particularly where lakes and river basins transcend na-
tional boundaries. Priority attention is needed by regional organizations to assist
national governments to strengthen and adapt their production structures. Above
all, African regional planners should learn from recent experiences of the Carib-
bean Community and Common Market (CARICOM). This regional scheme
created the Caribbean Food Corporation to implement a regional food plan aimed
specifically at stemming the trend of the large and rapidly growing regional food
import bill, which rocketed to $500 million in 1974. The plan will mobilize funds
and technical and managerial skills from within and without the region to promote,
finance, and implement agricultural production schemes (Axline 1979:165-166).


Governmental policies during the colonial period and since national independence
have contributed to the current African food crisis. The colonial tradition of
exploiting the agricultural sector, especially the small farmers and their families
who comprise the majority of the population in most African countries, continued
after African elites replaced Europeans and continues even today. As John Staatz
and Carl Eicher point out in another chapter, this exploitation agreed with the for-
merly prevailing idea that developing countries should emphasize industrialization
by taxing agriculture. The traditional agricultural sector would provide capital
from taxation, labor from the underemployed rural population, and raw materials
from its production to fuel industrial growth.
Even after the errors of this approach became evident and world food crises
appeared, contemporary African governments did not adopt adequate and realistic
policies for food production, marketing, and consumption. All or almost all Afri-
can countries stress the importance of the agricultural sector in public pronounce-
ments and official development plans, but per capital production continues to
decline because effective action is not taken. Some countries and regional organi-
zations have now devised food policies to encourage self-sufficiency and promote
domestic production, but this political act antagonizes important political actors,
particularly the urban elites and masses who desire artificially low food prices and
continued reliance on imports. Pricing policies and currency exchange rates pro-
vide disincentives to farmers, but favor the urban minority. State farms and other
large-scale schemes receive the scarce managerial time and development funding
that smallholder agriculture needs. Undue emphasis is still given to export crops
for the world market, and too little emphasis is given to food for Africa.



Asante, S. K. B. 1986. The Political Economy of Regionalism in Africa: A Decade of the
Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). New York: Praeger.
Balaam, David N., and Michael J. Casey, eds. 1981. Food Politics: The Regional Conflict.
Totowa, New Jersey: Allanheld, Osmun Publishers.
Bates, Robert H. 1981. Markets and States in Tropical Africa: The Political Basis ofAg-
ricultural Polihies. Berkeley, California: University of California Press.
Clute, Robert E. 1982. The Role of Agriculture in African Development. African Studies
Review 25:4:1-20.
Delancey, Mark W. 1980. Cameroon National Food Policies and Organizations: The Green
Revolution and Structural Proliferation. Journal ofAfrican Studies 7:2:109-122.
Hansen, Emmanuel. 1981. Public Policy and the Food Question in Ghana. African De-
velopment 6:3:99-115.
Nicholson, N. K., and John D. Esseks. 1978. The Politics of Food Scarcities in Developing
Countries. International Organization 32:3:679-719.
OAU (Organization of African Unity). 1985. Africa's Priority Programme for Economic
Recovery, 1986-1990. Adopted by the Heads of State and Government of the Organi-
zation of African Unity at its 21st Ordinary Session, held in Addis Ababa, Ethopia,
18-20 July 1985. Addis Adaba: African Heads of Government, Declaration No. 1.
Sen, Amaryta. 1982. The Food Problem: Theory and Practice. Third World Quarterly 4:3.


The Political Economy
of Food Issues


A frica's famine has entered the American consciousness as a dramatic media
event; it has yet to enter the U.S. consciousness as a political event. Behind the
agonies of hundreds of thousands of Africans dying of starvation lies more than a
natural catastrophe of unprecedented severity. Humanitarian concern for, and
public awareness of, this massive affliction have yet to be accompanied by a clear
understanding of the tragic incapacity of African governments to cope with food
scarcities. Even where climatic and environmental perturbations are most pain-
fully evident, as in the Sahel, a reasonable case may be made that African hunger
has as much to do with political conditions as with weather conditions.
The magnitude of Africa's food crisis is well established. Africa is the only
continent where food output per capital has declined over the last two decades. With
a population growth of approximately 3 percent per annum, recorded per capital
agricultural production declined by 1.5 percent annually in the 1970s and early
1980s. Precisely when grain prices are going up and African currency reserves are
shrinking, the demand for food imports is increasing dramatically. A total of ap-
proximately 150 million Africans are directly threatened by famine and malnutri-
tion. In the Sudan alone, 10 million are said to be at risk of starvation. According
to UNICEF estimates, the number of Sudanese children dying each year of malnu-
trition now reaches 750,000 (as compared with 200,000 in "normal" years!). The
statistics for Chad and Ethiopia are equally alarming. Not just people but entire
communities and ways of life are faced with extinction.
What remains open to debate are the underlying causes and implications of
the crisis. The devastating effects of natural calamities cannot be overlooked any
more than the severe physical constraints of the African environment; yet these
factors alone are not enough to explain the existence of a "continent-wide agricul-
tural breakdown" (Lofchie and Commins 1984:2). The constraints of the interna-
tional economy, the deterioration of Africa's terms of trade, the setting of wrong
sectoral priorities, and inept agricultural policies have all had a powerful multiplier


effect on the adversities of nature. In brief, the basic questions that lie in the back-
ground of the current food crisis-how much food to grow, what kinds of food, at
what cost, by what means, by whom and for whom-are preeminently political
The following pages explore the relationship between food and politics from
the three-dimensional perspective of local, national, and international arenas. The
first dimension involves a critical look at the so-called peasant mode of production
as a key dimension of the social environment of African states. The second brings
into focus the ongoing debate about the relative merits or demerits of socialist ver-
sus capitalist experiments. The third draws attention to external constraints arising
from the international parameters within which food policies are formulated and
put into practice. In looking at these dimensions of analysis we proceed on the
assumption that the relationship between politics and agricultural output is a recip-
rocal one. Just as political choices have a decisive bearing on the structure and
volume of food production, the resulting patterns of agricultural production, distri-
bution, and consumption are bound to affect the way in which power and wealth
are distributed in society.


The issue of the relationship between food and politics did not arise with independ-
ence; it lies at the heart of the policy choices made by European powers in their
attempt to cushion the costs of their political hegemony and maximize the returns
on their capital investments. Fiscal autonomy, the key corollary of colonial rule,
presupposed a taxable income, and both in turn came to depend on the ability of
the colonial state to bring about the so-called mise en valeur, or development of
human and economic resources. In a way that few of its advocates anticipated, the
imperative of mise en valeur has had a determining impact on the structure of Afri-
can agricultural economies.
To blame African hunger on the perverse effects of colonial rule seems
scarcely compatible with the statistical evidence available. At the time of independ-
ence in the 1960s, Africa produced roughly 95 percent of its food requirements.
Today virtually every African state, with the exception of South Africa and Zim-
babwe, must import food. Statistics alone do not tell the full story, however, and
they may be made to tell very different stories. A closer examination of the colonial
record provides ample proof of food crises originating not just from adverse climat-
ic conditions but also from policy decisions that, directly or indirectly, profoundly
undermined the viability of indigenous food systems. Clearly, the benefits derived
from the development of new productive forces and infrastructures must be asses-
sed against the human and environmental costs involved, including "the loss of
life, the loss of reliable and nutritious sources of food, and, more generally, the
loss of many skills with which the inhabitants had learnt to turn their harsh environ-


ment to their advantage" (Coulson 1982:32).
Among the several areas of economic vulnerability created by colonial rule,
none has been more potentially damaging to African food systems than the decline
of peasant commodity production under the combined pressures of cash cropping
and industrial capitalism. The introduction of cash crops proved the quickest way
to meet the revenue-generating needs of the nascent colonial state. Only by subject-
ing African peasants to stringent fiscal obligations could the state generate enough
cash to pay its own way into the avenues of colonization. Compulsory cultivation
of cash crops thus became the standard policy through which African peasants
were forced to earn a taxable income. Though implemented on different scales and
with varying degrees of severity, this policy lies at the root of what Michael Lof-
chie referred to a decade ago as "Africa's agrarian paradox": "A continent unable to
produce sufficient food to provide the majority of its citizens with even a barely
minimal diet has been able to record sharp increases in its annual production of
agricultural goods destined for external markets" (Lofchie 1975:554). While the
priority given to cash crops by the European colonizer is still very much in evi-
dence in most African states,' so also are the discriminating effects of pricing and
marketing policies. Just as the prices paid to producers of food crops remain abys-
mally low compared to the prices fetched by export crops, the highly skewed distri-
bution of marketing and storage facilities, agricultural extension services, and
technological inputs tend to put the food-producing sectors at a striking disadvan-
Critically related to the decline of indigenous food crops was the development
of mining and industrial activities; both made increasingly heavy demands on Afri-
can labor while creating a situation in which "the wages paid to men who worked
on the mine were subsidized by the rural areas" (Seidman 1977:414). In Zimbabwe
(formerly Southern Rhodesia), Zambia (formerly Northern Rhodesia), and Zaire
(formerly Congo), the expansion of labor recruitment networks into the rural sec-
tors led to massive migrations of African peasants into the mining areas. Through
the enforcement of discriminatory policies against the marketing of African pro-
duce, additional pressures were applied on the rural sectors to insure a regular flow
of cheap labor. By keeping the prices paid to African producers at an artificially
low level, entry into the wage labor force of industrial capitalism became the only
alternative to starvation. Where European commercial farming was allowed to de-
velop, as in Zambia and Zimbabwe, further steps were taken to reduce the competi-
tiveness of African agriculture, for example, "through the subsidy and encourage-
ment given to settler-farmers, through capturing of the African grain market, and
by refusing to exchange cash in return for African produce" (Riddell 1978:6). Illus-
trative of the effects of such policies on African agriculture was the situation pre-
vailing in the Rhodesian (Zambian) Copperbelt in 1911:

The whole country is in a state of starvation, and we are a long way from the next
season's harvest. The village people are in a miserable state, and for the time being
are subsisting on roots and anything edible they can find in the bush. In many of


the villages all one sees are a few old women and children. The men have disap-
peared (Perring 1979:20).
In sum, the involvement of the colonial state in the expansion of industrial
capitalism, first as a labor-recruiting agency, then as a price-setting authority, and
ultimately as the ally of European settlers, must be seen as the central factor behind
the decline and dislocations suffered by African food systems.
Bolstered by the full panoply of colonial policies and land regulations, the
spread of European settlement resulted in massive alienations of agricultural land
in states such as Kenya, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, thus posing additional threats to
African commodity producers. By far the most serious threat to African agriculture
stemmed from the need for a cheap labor supply to bring the European estates into
the sphere of capitalist production. This meant that "the settler had to compete
against alternative uses of African labor in commodity production as well as sub-
sistence agriculture" (Berman and Lonsdale 1980:62). To improve the competitive-
ness of European commercial farming, African "reserves" were created in both
Kenya and Zimbabwe in which land was set aside for the sole use of African pro-
ducers, but with the ultimate intention of converting them into vast reservoirs of
agricultural labor. As the population pressure on the reserves increased, and as
local production barely reached subsistence levels, more and more Africans were
driven into wage labor. As R. C. Riddell noted, "cheap labor supplies from the
reserves could only be forthcoming 'voluntarily' if reserve farming was carried
out at, or better, below subsistence levels and if the reserves were reasonably full"
(Riddell 1978:7). As a result, major distortions in the structure of rural economies
were created, with a commercial farming sector heavily dependent on a continuing
influx of cheap labor that coexisted side by side with a subsistence sector in which
population pressures and land hunger combined to perpetuate rural poverty. These
distortions are still visible today in both Kenya and Zimbabwe. In neither state is
there much room for an uncapturedd peasantry," to use Goran Hyden's phrase
(1980). The key fact, whose roots lie in the history of European settlement, is that
the respective peasantries are at a serious competitive disadvantage, politically and
financially, relative to medium- and large-scale commercial farms owned by the
state or private enterprise, and the peasantries are unable to act as a significant
countervailing force.
Just as there are important connections between colonial policies and the mul-
tiplicity of issues associated with the land problem, both are in turn intimately re-
lated to the dynamics of political protest in colonial Africa. The drastic restructur-
ing of African rural economies under the impact of the colonial state, and most
importantly through the commercialization of agriculture, holds crucial implica-
tions for an understanding of anticolonial rural protest. From tax-payers' revolts in
nineteenth century Ghana to the Mau-Mau Emergency in Kenya, from the rural
radicalism of the Bataka Association in Uganda to the Pende revolt in the Belgian
Congo, the grievances generated by the commercialization of agriculture emerge
as the dominant theme of anticolonial rural-based protest movements (Bates


This is not the place for a sustained inquiry into the history of these pro-
tonationalist manifestations. What needs to be stressed is that colonial authorities
have often responded to these threats by instituting land reforms, which in turn
created the conditions for new forms of social conflict. A case in point is the Swyn-
nerton Plan, devised as a political counterweight to the Mau-Mau insurgency. In-
tended to provide the basis for the emergence of a sizable rural African middle
class enjoying access to individual freehold titles, the Swynnerton Plan ended up
creating a very different type of social pyramid, characterized by a substantial con-
centration of landholdings among individuals with access to off-farm cash income.
As Angelique Haugerud has ably demonstrated, "land is being accumulated not
necessarily for agricultural development but to hold for speculative purposes, for
sons' future inheritance, and to increase one's borrowing power for loans on the
security of title deeds" (Haugerud 1983:84). In Kenya, as in many other parts of
Africa, land reform has done relatively little to alter existing patterns of rural in-
equality. The reasons for this lack of effect lie in part in the questionable priorities
set by urban elites in the allocation of land and agricultural technology, and in part
in the patterns of articulation between local peasant communities and the wider
political frameworks within which they are encapsulated.


Is the "peasant mode of production" a short-hand formula for an economy in which
affective ties, based on kinship, are so prevalent as to enable peasant communities
to effectively resist the assaults of the state? Or does it incorporate a nascent class
conflict between rural capitalists and peasant producers? These questions lie at the
heart of the ongoing debate among Africanists about the relevance of the mode of
production in historical and contemporary analysis. Although no definitive answer
has yet emerged from the exchange, there is nonetheless a widespread agreement
about the centrality of the peasant mode (however defined) in the structuring of
rural communities. Where opinions differ is in the extent to which the peasant
mode may be said to effectively block state intervention or, alternatively, to facili-
tate its penetration into the fabric of rural communities. At the root of this dissent
lie radically different conceptions of the types of normative orientations and articu-
lations associated with peasant modes of production.
The case for looking at African peasantries as uncapturedd," i.e., as basically
resistant to state pressures, is nowhere more forcefully argued than by Goran
Hyden (1980) in his classic study of villagization (ujamaa) in Tanzania. The "econ-
omy of affection," according to Hyden, incorporates a logic of social solidarity
that departs fundamentally from that of capitalism or socialism:

In the economy of affection, economic action is embedded in a range of so-
cial considerations that allow for redistribution of opportunities and benefits in a


manner which is impossible where modem capitalism or socialism prevails and
formalized state action dominates the process of redistribution (Hyden 1980:19).

Unlike capitalism or socialism, the economy of affection "is primarily concerned
with problems of reproduction rather than production" (Hyden 1980:18). The profit
motive is conspicuously absent from such economies; social solidarity provides
the basic mechanisms through which resources are redistributed among members
of the community. The implications are two-fold. On the one hand, the economy
of affection offers peasant communities enough autonomy and self-reliance to
evade the encroachments of the state. On the other hand, because it serves as a
survival mechanism in conditions of relative scarcity, "it dampens the revolution-
ary potential of the peasants" (Hyden 1980:192).
On both counts there are major reservations about the Hyden thesis. For one
thing, the line of demarcation between the economy of affection and the market
economy is not as easily traced as the foregoing might suggest. Marxist analysts
are basically correct in stressing the transitional character of the peasant mode of
production, and, in some instances, its tendency "more and more to become mere
aspects of the capitalist mode of production" (Leys 1975:172). The least that may
be said is that the economy of affection, as articulated by Hyden, is far too static a
concept to provide meaningful analytic leverage. Just as one may conceptualize
this economy in very different ways, shown by comparing Hyden's characteriza-
tion with the more sophisticated and contrasting efforts of James Scott (1976) and
Samuel Popkin (1979), one may also visualize fundamental differences in the ex-
tent to which Africans have in fact remained uncaptured by the advances of rural
capitalism. In addition, how far the economy of affection acts as a disincentive to
revolutionary upheavals is by no means self-evident.2 The susceptibility of African
peasants to radical protest is well established, and where rural protest failed to
materialize, the reasons may not lie exclusively with the dampening effects of af-
Whereas Hyden tends to reduce African modes of production to a single affec-
tive denominator, contemporary Marxist analysts look at these realities through a
variety of analytic lenses. Nothing like a consistent definition of the peasant mode
of production emerges from the work of people such as Claude Meillassoux, Em-
manuel Terray, Catherine Coquery-Vidrovitch, Gervase Clarence-Smith, or Mar-
tin Klein.3 This lack of consistency, in a sense, reflects a greater sensitivity to the
historical particularities of African peasantries as well as to their different modes
of incorporation in wider capitalist economies. These authors call attention to the
classic distinction between the forces of production and the relations of produc-
tion. The first of these concepts throws into relief the extremely low level of
technology available to most African societies, the forbidding constraints of the
environment, the rudimentary character of the division of labor, and ultimately the
Sisyphean task of harnessing these extraordinarily feeble and fragmented forces to
a cohesive organizational framework. This is particularly true of attempts to con-
vert African peasants into socialist producers. As one observer noted: "The idea


that a disciplined vanguard party could force the course of history and get socialism
now, whatever the level of development of the forces of production, led people to
ignore or trivialize the vital question of economic productivity" (Clarence-Smith
The question of the relations of production, on the other hand, directs attention
to a range of possible links between peasant communities and the state. Although
state-peasant relations are implicitly defined in the terms commonly used to desig-
nate land-tenure systems, to categorize African peasants in terms of smallholders,
communal farmers, tenants, and squatters leaves out a crucial variable in defining
relations of production: the role of the state or its agents in providing access to land
resources, technology, labor, and credit facilities. It is the state in Zimbabwe that
defines the status of "legitimate squatter," i.e., "genuine and deserving illegal oc-
cupants"-a category that includes "those who moved on to vacant commercial
farms during the war, farm workers who lost their jobs when owners abandoned
their farms, and returning refugees" (Cheater 1983:79). It is the state in Rwanda
that allocates plots to the b6n6ficiaires (recipients of land) in newly settled areas
(Lemarchand 1982). It is the state in Tanzania that makes it possible for rich peas-
ants (the so-called kulaks) to have access to conveniently located plots, extension
services, and technology (Hyden 1980). It is the state in Kenya that organizes and
regulates land registration and consolidation, and it is the state that enables certain
privileged recipients to secure loans and import licenses from the Industrial and
Commercial Development Corporation (ICDC), thereby allowing the accumula-
tion of large holdings in a few private hands (Haugerud 1983).
In this context the "state" involves specific actors, more often than not politi-
cians and bureaucrats who trade (sometimes literally) on their access to strategic
resources, including land and credit, to build rural clienteles. The result in many
instances has been to force relations of production into highly politicized and per-
sonalized circuits of exchange, in which aid is given (or withdrawn) as an unplan-
ned and sometimes unproductive benefit.
This state of affairs is consistent with the mechanisms of internal dependency
generally subsumed under the rubric of "political clientelism," a phenomenon that
fragments peasant communities along vertical lines, facilitates the control of a pa-
tron class, concentrates resources in relatively few hands, and ultimately contrib-
utes to the reproduction of rural inequalities (Lemarchand 1981). Whether rural
clientelism operates within the context of marketing cooperatives, ujamaa vil-
lages, paysannats (settlement schemes), individual land holdings, or commercial
farms, the evidence points to its ubiquity as a relation of production. Despite im-
portant variations in the balance of exchange between rural clients and their pa-
trons, the basis of the extensive literature dealing with clientelistic phenomena in
East and Central Africa, there is every reason to believe that the overall impact of
local hierarchies has been to severely compromise the equity goals of rural de-
velopment schemes, to lower productivity, and to shift peasant activities away
from food production to export crops.
This last point is central to the argument advanced by Robert Bates in his


analysis of how markets have been manipulated by political elites to maximize the
extraction of export commodities from agrarian societies. Though argued from the
perspective of class-based collective actions, the Bates thesis is fully compatible
with a clientelistic view of rural poverty. In the system that he so convincingly
describes, "the losers are those who are not located in positions of access to (scarce
resources) and who nonetheless must purchase imported goods;" the beneficiaries,
on the other hand, are the members of the patron class who "become enormously
powerful because they control the allocation of a scarce and valuable resource"
(Bates 1984:235), in this case, foreign exchange. His argument is that market ma-
nipulation creates the very conditions that force peasants out of market circuits and
into the subsistence economy. We shall return to the Bates thesis. Note that, insofar
as one may generalize from his analysis, it raises some obvious questions about the
pertinence of capitalist and socialist models for evaluating the performance of Afri-
can states.


Assessing the respective contributions of agrarian socialism and capitalism to the
current food crisis is risky: some may even be tempted to dismiss the exercise as
pointless. Each of these labels covers a wide range of policies and experiments.
Because of their holistic connotations, the labels fail to convey an appropriate pic-
ture of the changes that have taken place over time in the formulation and im-
plementation of these policies. Nor are the labels particularly helpful in describing
such notoriously hybrid cases as Zimbabwe, Rwanda, and Mali. Further com-
plicating the task of analysis is the incidence of factors and circumstances (civil
wars, liberation struggles, refugee problems, and so on) that have had a direct im-
pact on the agricultural performance of African states, regardless of their commit-
ment to socialist or capitalist models. Finally, the absence of clear-cut correlations
between ideological preferences and agricultural production (see Table 3.1) raises
the question of whether socialist or capitalist options have anything to do with the
seeds of famine.
Although these are serious reasons to exercise caution, available evidence
suggests the following broad generalizations: (1)The egregious failure of socialist
experiments in countries such as Tanzania, Mozambique, Ethiopia, and Angola is
traceable not just to political crises and external attempts at destabilization but to
certain fundamental shortcomings in the strategies associated with agrarian
socialism. (2) Capitalist models show a very mixed track record, ranging from
poor (Nigeria) to disastrous (Zaire), and seldom anywhere has rural capitalism gen-
erated a pattern of self-sustaining growth. Even though the reasons for this out-
come are varied and complex, in Zaire and Nigeria the plundering of state re-
sources for personal enrichment emerges as the most plausible explanation for the
failure of capitalist strategies. (3) The deficiencies discernible in the socialist and

TABLE 3.1. Classification of Sub-Saharan Africa According to Agricultural Production Performance, 1961-1981

Total Agricultural Productiona Increase > 105 Stagnant > 95-< 105 Decrease < 95

Strong Increase > 130

Increase > 105-< 130

Stagnant > 95-< 105


Ivory Coast




(102,112) Central African R. ( 99,101)
(99,112) Gabon (101,101)
Sierra Leone ( 99,99 )
Zambia (100,101)

Decrease > 80-< 95 Chad ( 82,81)
Congo ( 85,84)
Ethiopia ( 85,84)
Ghana ( 83,83)
Guinea ( 92,89)
Lesotho ( 87,94)
Mali ( 91,88)
Mozambique ( 81,85)
Niger ( 82,82)
Nigeria ( 87,88)
Somalia ( 85,85)
Tanzania ( 90,93)
Upper Volta ( 95,93)
Zaire ( 90,91)

Strong Decrease < 80 Zimbabwe ( 75,99 ) Angola (70,94)
Gambia ( 79,79)
Mauritania ( 74,74)
Namibia ( 77,77)
Senegal ( 71,70)
Uganda ( 76,90)

Source: J. Hinderink and J.J. Sterkenburg. 1983. Agricultural Policy and Production in Africa: The Aims, the Methods
and the Means. Journal of Modern African Studies XII:1:2.

aThe figures in brackets give the index for total agricultural production pr capital followed by the index for food
production per capital. They are based on 5-yearly averages for the period 1976-1980, in comparison with the base period
of 1961-65 = 100.


( 99,91)



capitalist modes of development have been further aggravated by the manipulation
of markets by the political class, resulting in a drastic decline of material incentives
available to the food-producing sectors. At this level the effect of ideological op-
tions on peasant behavior appears far less decisive than the inability of the state to
generate minimally attractive pricing policies and other incentives to encourage
the production of food crops.
Agrarian socialism presupposes a major shift in the relationships between the
state and the peasantry, a shift from what is usually described as an exploitative
relationship to one in which, over time, self-reliant village communities will come
into being, obviate the need for state intervention, and hence eliminate a major
source of capitalist exploitation. In Julius Nyerere's formulation:

Most of our farming will be done by groups of people who live as a community
and work as a community. ... The activities of the village, and the type of pro-
duction they undertake, as well as the distribution of crops and other goods they
produce will all be determined by the village members themselves (Nyerere

The contrast between Nyerere's vision and the stark realities of Tanzanian
socialism requires little elaboration. In bothTanzania and Mozambique, "villagiza-
tion" policies have resulted in a catastrophic decline in agricultural output, making
both countries more dependent than ever on outside aid.
The failure of villagization policies reflects a number of fundamental con-
tradictions between the assumptions and exigencies of agrarian socialism, on the
one hand, and the cultural and political parameters of state intervention, on the
other. Between the official view of precapitalist African societies as inherently pre-
disposed to endorse socialist ideas and the sociocultural realities of the Tanzanian
setting exists a chasm of such proportions that it was only bridged by the applica-
tion of coercive measures. Forced villagization emerged as the only alternative to
voluntarism. Forcing the peasants to join registered communal villages on com-
mand went hand in hand with the bureaucratization of village communities; thus,
an "authoritarian, managerial approach" (Hyden 1980:106) was substituted for the
principles of self-reliance and decentralized decisionmaking. At this point yet
another contradiction emerged, involving the relations of rural cooperatives to the
state. Initially viewed as a crucial element in the elaboration of rural redistribution
strategies, and therefore as a necessary complement of villagization, the coopera-
tives were eventually seen as a major obstacle between the state and the village
communities and, indeed, as a threat to state supremacy. The elimination of volun-
tary cooperatives and their replacement by state-run marketing boards and trading
corporations spelled the abandonment of the single most important operative prin-
ciple in Nyerere's dream of bringing together "people who live as a community and
work as a community."
Though carried through on a lesser scale, villagization in Mozambique ran
into much of the same kinds of problems, including resistance to state intervention
and bureaucratic rule, but with an additional calamitous consequence-by forcing


people into villages the state unwittingly turned villagers into recruits for the
Mozambican National Resistance (MNR). Where the case of Mozambique differs
from that of Tanzania is in the heavy investments made in the state-farm sector,
officially viewed as "the quickest way of responding to food needs because of the
size of the areas they cover, their rational organization of human and material re-
sources, and the immediate availability of machinery" (Hanlon 1984:100).
The state farms, as it turned out, proved the quickest way to disaster, which is
why priority is now being given to cooperatives and family farms. The failure of
state farms may be attributed in part to the dramatic lack of managerial and techni-
cal skills required to run such large-scale farming units (covering 350,000 square
miles in 1981) and in part to the total breakdown of distributive networks caused
by the massive flight of Portuguese traders after national independence. The sud-
den evaporation of consumer commodities from the rural markets led to a situation
in which "peasants had huge amounts of money in their hands and nothing to spend
it on" (Hanlon 1984:111). In the absence of consumer commodities, a barter sys-
tem quickly supplanted the official marketing networks, pushing the Mozambican
economy into the most primitive type of exchange and eventually prompting the
Central Committee of the National Liberation Front of Mozambique (FRELIMO)
to recognize the need "to re-establish the market economy" (Hanlon 1984:111)-
an appropriate epitaph to the Mozambican version of agrarian socialism.
The cases of Tanzania and Mozambique sound like horror stories, but the
examples of Zaire and, in a qualified sense, Nigeria show that this genre is by no
means a monopoly of socialist economies. The balance sheet of rural capitalism in
Zaire "is not just negative-it is catastrophic" (Young and Turner 1985:322). A
thoroughly inadequate infrastructure, consistently low level of public investments,
producer prices and fiscal pressures designed to discourage food production, ineffi-
cient and corrupt marketing parastatals-these are only some of the most obvious
factors that explain the disastrous performance of Zairian agriculture. At the root
of the agrarian crisis in Zaire lies a clientelistic distributive system in which access
to land is largely the privilege of the state bourgeoisie. In such a system the extrac-
tion of a marketable surplus from the peasant sectors is the prime reward expected
by land owners. Just as traditional land rights may be conveniently disregarded for
the sake of profit, so may the basic needs of rural workers be neglected. The logic
of the profit motive is a cruel one indeed for the plantation worker whose daily
wage approximates $0.20, and whose only escape route is to go back to a
subsistence-type economy (McGaffey 1982:103). When carried to the point of ex-
tortion, profit maximization becomes counterproductive for both patrons and
clients. As one observer noted: "The productivity of capital in Zaire has always
been low because large numbers of men are able to avoid the pressure to offer their
labor in exchange for wages; it is often both possible and more productive to go
fishing or to grow one's own food" (McGaffey 1982:103). Zaire's growing food
deficits bear testimony to this law of diminishing returns.
Although the Nigerian case is more complex, the trend towards a Zairian pat-
tern is unmistakable. The shift from "nurture" capitalism to "pirate" capitalism, to


use Sayre Schatz's felicitous phrasing (Schatz 1984:55), underscores the preemi-
nent role of the state as a source of personal enrichment. In Nigeria, as in Zaire,
land figures prominently in the array of prebends available from the state, but it is
incorporated into a radically different policy framework. Beginning in the 1970s,
there has been a concerted effort on the part of Nigerian authorities to increase
food production through generous state subsidies, integrated development
schemes, state food farms, and large-scale irrigation projects. A critical compo-
nent of this policy was the Integrated Rural Development Projects (IRDP), which
were aimed at raising agricultural productivity through technological inputs, im-
proved infrastructure, credit, marketing, and extension facilities. The trend toward
large-scale capitalist farming was further accelerated by President Shagari's Green
Revolution. All this, however, did not prevent massive food shortages and, as food
imports began to compete with domestic food crops, many farmers responded to
market pressures by switching to commercial crops, thereby aggravating the condi-
tions that initially spurred the imports. What was missing from these grandiose
schemes was a recognition of the potential contribution that small farmers could
make to food self-sufficiency. Monumental profits were reaped by bureaucrats and
speculators of various stripes through importing farm technology and food com-
modities (as the Dikko affair plainly demonstrated), or in short, through "pirate"
capitalism; at the very same time, very little was done to apply the remedies of
"nurture" capitalism to the small and poor farmers. As one knowledgeable ob-
server noted:

Poor farmers are forced to sell grain immediately after harvest at low prices to
meet taxes, debt repayments and ceremonial expenditure on manufactured items.
Later in the season they work as wage labor for middle and rich farmers in order
to obtain food at high prices, thereby neglecting their own farms. The market
therefore does not allocate resources. It articulates a whole system of inequality
which involves control over commodities, money, labor power and means of pro-
duction (Forrest 1981:247).
What has been referred to as "the emergence of the inert economy" (Schatz
1984:56) in the Nigerian context is not just a reflection of "pirate" capitalism;
much of the inertia currently affecting Nigerian agriculture is also traceable to the
persistence of rural inequality as a byproduct of this kind of capitalism.
This necessarily brief excursus into the ideological background of agricultural
policy choices requires a few additional comments. (1) Whether inspired by
socialist or free market principles, agricultural production in Africa is directly af-
fected by the types of social organization available to smallholders, a point excel-
lently argued by Michael Bratton in his recent discussion of self-managed farmers'
associations in Zimbabwe (Bratton 1985). His conclusions apply to other states as
well. Majangano (reciprocal labor exchange) in Zimbabwe, umuganda (self-help)
in Rwanda, and ton (youth association) in Mali designate certain forms of social
organization that are significant in mobilizing human and material resources, even
though largely unrelated to socialist or capitalist options. (2) Ideological prefer-
ences are also irrelevant in terms of the perverse effects of market manipulation by


urban-based elites. As Bates has shown, the distortions that such manipulation en-
tails inevitably work against the interests of agricultural producers and to the ben-
efit of the urban sector. (3) Ideology is again reduced to a rather indeterminate
status when viewed against the background of the external constraints under which
African economies are laboring.
Before turning to a more detailed analysis of these external impediments, let
us briefly consider the more salient points made by Bates in his groundbreaking
study, Markets and States in Tropical Africa (1981). Not only has he provided the
most convincing set of arguments for an "internalist" explanation of Africa's agrar-
ian crisis; his arguments also constitute the most devastating critique of the part
played by African governments in bringing the crisis into existence.
If food policies in Africa are generally unresponsive to nutritional needs, it is
because these policies are overwhelmingly geared to furthering the economic and
political interests of the urban elites, most conspicuously the elite of the political
class. By keeping producer prices for food crops well below the level of world
market prices, African governments have consistently favored urban consumers
while discriminating against peasant producers.4 Furthermore, by setting official
exchange rates at artificially high levels, governments have succeeded in both cut-
ting down the cost of imported commodities (including food imports for urban con-
sumers and agricultural technology for rich farmers) and reducing the effective
prices paid to producers of export crops and food crops. By subsidizing agricul-
tural inputs-fertilizer, seeds, tractors, and so on-they tend to promote the in-
terests of "coteries of privileged, modern farmers" (Bates 1981:49) at the expense
of small-scale agricultural producers. The cumulative effect of these policies and
practices has been to create almost limitless opportunities for profit and corruption
among the political class (mainly through the control of marketing boards and
other parastatals) and to drastically reduce incentives for increased food produc-
Bates' tightly argued critique also helps us understand the factors that lie be-
hind (1) the rapidly expanding scope of parallel economies and (2) the informal
deals that, at this level, bring together politicians and peasants as they jointly seek
to evade official price controls and marketing regulations.

Whereas at the level of official policy the interests of the peasants and the bureau-
crat are in conflict, at the level of unofficial practice they are often consonant,
given the structure of the incentives to which the official policy gives rise. To put
it bluntly, the policies offer joint gains through corruption. The bureaucrat can
offer protection against the very policies he is mandated to impose: for a portion
of the gains, he can help the peasant evade market controls. And the peasant,
rather then attacking government policy directly, can often do better by seeking to
become an individual exception to it; he can do this by offering bribes (Bates

From this dismal rendering of African food policies one can hardly avoid the
conclusion that rural poverty is fundamentally related to the powerlessness of the
peasant sectors. Not only do the rural poor lack minimal control over their im-


mediate environment and economic circumstances, they also lack all opportunities
for taking part in the elaboration of the policies that affect their livelihood most
directly. This situation is true not only of the domestic policies fashioned by Afri-
can governments but also of the decisions affecting world commodity prices and
market structures. That power relationships have a significant bearing on problems
of poverty and hunger is undeniable; what remains uncertain is whether such re-
lationships may be decisively altered at the domestic or international level.


The question of the relationship of external constraints to food production invites
consideration of at least two major schools of thought, one associated with depend-
ency theory and the other with the principle of comparative advantage. Although
they each provide logically coherent explanations of rural poverty, they both leave
out critically important features of the international environment. The fatality of
external capitalist controls is just as open to doubt as the Ricardian blessings of
specialization of production in free market conditions.
Dependency theory was the dominant theme in the 1960s and 1970s, but is
now pronounced "dead in the water" even by radical analysts (Rogowski 1985).
Whether there is any basis for such claims is beyond the scope of the present discus-
sion; suffice it to note that only marginal analytic returns have been gained from
various attempts at testing its applicability to the African scene. Reduced to its
simplest expression, dependency theory argues that Third World poverty is dialecti-
cally linked to the expansion of capitalism into the periphery. Only through the
extraction of an economic surplus from the periphery, that is, through the
wholesale exploitation of Third World resources, could capitalism gather momen-
tum while creating the conditions of peripheral misery and underdevelopment. De-
spite countless variations on this theme, its shortcomings are all too evident. (1)
Patterns of dependency cover a wide spectrum of relationships and cannot be re-
duced to a simple dualism between core and periphery. (2) Some of the so-called
dependent countries have in fact shown a surprising ability to reverse or at least
decisively alter their relationship of dependency vis-d-vis core countries. (3) The
terms of exchange between core and periphery are by no means eternally fixed but
are susceptible to mutually beneficial adjustments. These are only some of the
more problematic issues raised by dependency theory. Although there can be little
question that rural poverty is historically linked to the processes of capital accumu-
lation inaugurated under the auspices of the colonial state, today's market struc-
tures and prices call attention to an entirely different set of parameters.
From the standpoint of comparative advantage theory, rural poverty is only
the most tragic symptom of the inability of African states to make effective use of
their resources. Specifically, the roots of hunger and poverty are traceable to the
failure of African governments to place sufficient emphasis on export crops, which
they can produce at a comparatively low cost. Their comparative advantage lies in


the full utilization of their productive potential as producers of tea, cocoa, coffee,
cotton, peanuts, and so forth within the context of a free market economy. Rather
than switch to food crops, a more rational course would be to use the foreign ex-
change derived from the sale of cash crops to import food from the West; thus, the
opportunity costs of achieving nutritional self-sufficiency are avoided. The as-
sumption, in brief, is that "the income generated by the sale of export
crops would make it possible to purchase far greater amounts of wheat and
corn than could have been produced domestically with the same inputs" (Lofchie
and Commins 1984:9).
The problems with this line of reasoning are that it: (1) overlooks the consider-
able elasticity of consumer demand for tropical exports; (2) assumes a situation of
competitive bidding among foreign buyers, when in fact a near monopsony ob-
tains; and (3) underestimates the extreme competitiveness among producers of
tropical crops, in stark contrast with the near absence of competition among corpo-
rate buyers. There are indeed basic limitations to the applicability of competitive
advantage to Africa, as excellently demonstrated by Michael Lofchie and Stephen
Commins. If producers of tropical commodities are unable "to gain price leverage
in the international market place," it is critically related to such factors as the
"ready availability of synthetic or substitute products for such commodities," the
dominant position occupied by "a handful of powerful multinational trading corpo-
rations (such as) General Foods, Nestle, Lipton and Brooke Bond," and the
emergence of export crop production as "an enormously competitive field" (Lof-
chie and Commins 1984:11-12). What Lofchie and Commins refer to as "market
failure" is largely responsible for the sharp deterioration of Africa's terms of trade,
a process that shows no sign of coming to an end, Lome III notwithstanding.
Yet another facet of the current food crisis i Africa's mounting debt burden,
perhaps the most dramatic illustration of the propensity to spend more on imports
than is being earned from exports. To cite one example, although Mozambique
spends an estimated $568 million annually in hard currency to cover the cost of
imported fuel, spare parts, and other commodities, its total earnings from exports
barely reach $110 million (May 1985). The growing indebtedness of African states
imposes upon them debt-servicing obligations that tend to further restrict the pool
of financial resources needed to improve agricultural production. Furthermore, the
austerity measures, including the elimination of food subsidies, forced upon Afri-
can states by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as a condition for the exten-
sion of new loans entail political repercussions that few governments are able to
face. The elimination of government subsidies that hold down the price of bread
and other commodities inevitably tends to trigger explosions of popular discon-
tent, as happened in Khartoum in 1985, in Tunis in 1984, and in Cairo in 1977. In
each case urban rioting (sometimes referred to as IMF riots) came about as a result
of major increases in the price of bread (33 percent overnight in Khartoum, 100
percent in Tunis, and 50 percent in Cairo). Whether to comply with IMF guidelines
at the cost of political instability or to reject such guidelines and go into receiver-
ship is the basic dilemma currently facing a number of African states.


Equally serious is the dilemma confronting donor states as they must choose
between treating the symptoms of rural poverty or attacking its root. Food aid may
indeed perpetuate the very conditions that make for poverty and hunger, surely one
of the most ironic facts about the massive relief operations organized under the
auspices of private and international organizations. In the short run, of course,
hundreds of thousands of human lives have been saved by the joint efforts and ded-
ication of relief workers and donor agencies, and this may be seen as ample justifi-
cation for this monumental outpouring of cash and commiseration. On the other
hand, the drawbacks are equally clear. As Kevin Danaher pointed out, "food aid
can undermine local food production by flooding local markets and depressing
food prices; it can also create dependencies on foreign aid or be used by recipient
governments to manipulate the poor" (Danaher 1985:3). Furthermore, if the case
of Zaire is any index, food aid may not even reach those who need it most, but end
up being sold on the open market for the benefit of strategically placed
businessmen and politicians.
Reflecting on "why much of the money spent on agricultural development in
Africa has simply not paid off," Clifford May (1985:74) suggested that

a large part of the explanation may be that aid organizations must work with gov-
ernments that helped create the problems in the first place, and the granting of any
aid, relief or development, to regimes fighting civil wars frees resources that can
be used to intensify and prolong those wars. Because war is a cause of famine, aid
can in that way indirectly contribute to the spread of hunger. To deny aid on that
basis, however, punishes the innocent far more than the guilty.

The alternative to working with African governments while ignoring their
share of responsibility in creating famine conditions is to withhold development
aid unless and until appropriate economic reforms are implemented. This course is
the thrust of the 1981 World Bank Study, Accelerated Development in Sub-
Saharan Africa, better known as the Berg Report, and is also a major feature of
Ronald Reagan's Economic Policy Initiative for Africa (EPI), intended to provide
$500 million in aid over a five-year period to those countries that are willing to
initiate fundamental changes in their agricultural policies. Whether such pressures
and inducements may effectively promote local enterprise and break the hold of
parastatal agencies on the production and marketing of agricultural commodities
remains unclear.
Clearly, the alternatives facing African governments are not reducible to
single options such as acceptance of external dependency versus going it alone,
free enterprise versus state-controlled economies, and concentration on food crops
versus specialization in the production of cash crops. Behind these alternatives lie
more fundamental choices. At what cost and through which strategies may the
weight of external constraints be mitigated? Which mix of private enterprise and
state controls is best suited to improve the productivity of the rural sectors? What
proportion of cash-crop earnings must be given up for the sake of long-term sav-
ings in the area of food production?


That there are no simple answers to these questions does not make them any
less pertinent as an academic concern; that these questions transcend the bound-
aries of any single discipline is equally clear. If nothing else, these questions
should prompt us to seek out the answers at the level of interdisciplinary collabora-
tion. In Africa as elsewhere, agriculture is far too important to be left to the produc-
tion scientists. Only through a genuine and sustained collaborative effort among
social and production scientists may one begin to address the multiple causes of
poverty and hunger in Africa and help mitigate the devastating effects of this mas-
sive affliction.


1. Twenty-six African countries earn more than half their foreign exchange from a
single mineral or export crop; 37 countries depend on one or two items for as much as 80
percent of their overseas earnings. By the late 1970s, for example, 75 percent of Senegal's
export earnings came from peanuts, and four-fifths of Chad's were generated by the sale of
raw cotton.
2. The contradictory implications of the economy of affection are symptomatic of the
imprecision surrounding its meaning. On the one hand, the economy of affection is viewed
as having a dampening effect on "the revolutionary potential of peasants and workers". On
the other hand, it is described as "the most important factor that facilitated the liberation or
the struggle for independence in African countries." According to Hyden:
Without access to the economy of affection as a hinterland, if you want to use that
analogy, many of those brave fighters that actually challenged colonial rule would
have found it very difficult to pursue their struggle. And, may I add here, it was
probably the lack of appreciation of this economy among the colonial powers that
actually made them in the long run lose the battle (Hyden 1985:55).
Why the economy of affection should both stimulate and restrain the "liberation efforts" of
African peasantries remains unclear.
3. For a sample of divergent conceptualizations, see the 1985 special issue of the
Canadian Journal of African Studies entirely devoted to "Mode of Production: The Chal-
lenge of Africa" (XIX: 1).
4. The case of Tanzania is not atypical. According to a 1982 World Bank report, the
government paid coffee farmers less than half of the fair market value for their production;
rice farmers received less than one third of market value for their produce.


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California: Sage Publications.
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Eicher, Carl, and John Staatz, eds. 1984. AgriculturalDevelopment in the ThirdWorld. Bal-
timore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Gran, Guy. 1983. Development by People. New York: Praeger Publishers.


Heyer, Judith, Pepe Roberts, and Gavin Williams, eds. 1981. Rural Development in Tropical
Africa. New York: St. Martin's Press.
Hopkins, Raymond, and Donald Puchala. 1978. The Global Political Economy of Food.
Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.
Hopkins, Raymond, Donald Puchala, and Ross Talbot, eds. 1979. Food, Politics and Ag-
ricultural Development. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press.
Lappe, Francis Moore, Joseph Collins, and David Kinley. 1980. Aidas Obstacle. San Fran-
cisco, California: Institute for Food and Development Policy.
Moyana, Henry. 1980. The Political Economy of Land in Zimbabwe. Harare, Zimbabwe:
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Young, Crawford, Neil Sherman, and Tim Rose. 1981. Cooperatives and Development.
Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.


Agricultural Development Ideas
in Historical Perspective


A although economists have been concerned with growth and development
since at least the time bf the mercantilists, development economics has existed as
a separate branch of economics just since about 1950. The history of the field can
roughly be divided into two periods: (1) the economic growth and modernization
era of the 1950s and 1960s, when development was defined largely in terms of
growth in average per capital output; and (2) the growth-with-equity period since
around 1970, when the concern of most development economists broadened to in-
clude income distribution, employment, nutrition, and a host of other variables.
The prevailing view of agriculture's role in development changed profoundly dur-
ing these two periods.'
This chapter presents an outline of the changing view of agriculture in eco-
nomic development since 1950. The chapter begins with a brief discussion of the
evolution of agricultural development theory and practice during the growth and
modernization era of the fifties and sixties. The relatively passive role assigned to
agriculture in the economic growth models of the 1950s, the increasing recognition
of the interdependence between agricultural and industrial growth during the
1960s, the lessons learned from the agricultural development experience of the
1950s and 1960s, and the contribution of radical and dependency scholars to an
improved understanding of the process of agricultural and rural development are
examined. The next section is a discussion of the increased emphasis given to ag-
ricultural and rural development during the growth-with-equity period that began
around 1970. During this period there was a sharp increase in microeconomic re-
search on agricultural production and marketing, intersectoral linkages, rural-
factor markets, migration, and rural small-scale industry; and there was a policy
This chapter is based on an earlier article (with the same title) by the authors that ap-
peared in Agricultural Development in The Third World, edited by Carl K. Eicher and John
M. Staatz (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1984), pp. 3-30. Used with permis-
sion of the publisher.


shift to integrated rural development and basic-needs programs.

ECONOMICS, 1950-1969 *

Western Development Economists' Perspectives on Agriculture

Most Western development economists of the 1950s did not view agriculture as an
important contributor to economic growth.2 Development was often equated with
the structural transformation of the economy, that is, with the decline in agricul-
ture's relative share of the national product and of the labor force. The role of de-
velopment economics, as seen by these economists, was to facilitate that transfor-
mation by discovering ways to transfer resources, especially labor, from traditional
agriculture to industry-the presumed engine of growth. Agriculture itself was
often treated as a "black box from which people, and food to feed them, and
perhaps capital could be released" (Little 1982:105).
Development economics throughout the 1950s and 1960s was strongly influ-
enced byW. Arthur Lewis's 1954 article, "Economic Development with Unlimited
Supplies of Labour." Seldom has a single article been so instrumental in shaping
the work of an entire subdiscipline of economics. In the article, Lewis presented a
general equilibrium model of expansion in an economy with two sectors: a modern
capitalist exchange sector and an indigenous noncapitalist sector, which was domi-
nated by subsistence farming.3 The distinguishing characteristics of the capitalist
sector were its use of reproducible capital, its hiring of labor, and its sale of output
for profit. "Capitalist" enterprises could be owned privately or by the state. The
subsistence sector was pictured as the "self-employment sector," which did not
hire labor or use reproducible capital. Lewis's model focused on how the transfer
of labor from the subsistence sector (where the marginal productivity of a laborer
approached zero as a limiting case) to the capitalist sector facilitated capitalist ex-
pansion through reinvestment of profits. The labor supply facing the capitalist sec-
tor was described as "unlimited" for the following reason: "When the capitalist
sector offers additional employment opportunities at the existing wage rate, the
numbers willing to work at the existing wage rate will be greater than the demand:
the supply curve of labor is infinitely elastic at the ruling wage" (Meier 1976:158).
In Lewis's model, expansion in the capitalist sector continued until earnings in the
two sectors were equated, at which point a dual-sector model was no longer relev-
ant; growth proceeded as in a one-sector neoclassical model. Lewis's analysis was
later extended by Gustav Ranis (1963, 1964), Ranis and John Fei (1961), and Dale
Jorgenson (1961).
Lewis pointed out that the capitalist sector did not need to be industry (it could
be mining or plantations) and that the noncapitalist sector could include handi-
crafts. Most analysts, however, equated the capitalist sector with industry and the
noncapitalist sector with traditional agriculture; they argued that "surplus" labor


and other resources should be transferred from agriculture to industry in order to
promote growth.4 Many development economists concluded that since economic
growth facilitated the structural transformation of the economy in the long run, the
rapid transfer of resources (especially "surplus" labor) from agriculture to industry
was an appropriate short run economic development strategy.5 But Bruce Johnston
observed that "This preoccupation with 'surplus labor' often seems to have encour-
aged neglect of the agricultural sector as well as a tendency to assume too readily
that a surplus can and should be extracted from agriculture, while neglecting the
difficult requirements that must be met if agriculture is to play a positive role in
facilitating overall economic growth" (Johnston 1970:378).
The propensity of development economists to give relatively little attention to
agriculture's potential "positive role in facilitating overall economic growth" was
based in part on the empirical observation that agriculture's share of the economy
inevitably declines during the course of development for at least two reasons.
First, the income elasticity of demand for unprocessed food is less than unity and
declines with higher incomes; hence, the demand for raw agricultural products
grows more slowly than consumption in general. Second, increasing labor produc-
tivity in agriculture means that the same farm output can be produced with fewer
workers, implying a transfer of labor to other sectors of the economy. Because ag-
riculture's share of the economy was assumed to be declining, many economists
downplayed the need to invest in the agricultural sector in the short run.
The relative neglect of agriculture in the 1950s was reinforced by two other
developments. In 1949 Raul Prebisch and Hans Singer independently formulated
the thesis that there is a secular tendency for the terms of trade to turn against coun-
tries that export primary products and import manufactures. From this they con-
cluded that the scope for growth through agricultural and other primary product
exports was very limited. Prebisch and his colleagues at the Economic Commis-
sion for Latin America (ECLA) of the United Nations therefore advocated that
priority be given to import substitution of manufactured goods rather than to pro-
duction of agricultural exports.6 The "secular-decline hypothesis" became an arti-
cle of faith for some development economists and planners; thus the tendency to
downplay agriculture's potential role in development was reinforced.
The second important event affecting development economists' view of ag-
riculture was the publication of Albert Hirschman's influential book, The Strategy
of Economic Development (1958). In this book, Hirschman introduced the concept
of linkages as a tool for investigating how, duringthe course of development, in-
vestment in one type of economic activity induced subsequent investment in other
income-generating activities. Hirschman defined the linkage effects of a given
product line as the "investment-generating forces that are set in motion, through
input-output relations, when productive facilities that supply inputs to that line or
utilize its output are inadequate or nonexistent. Backward linkages lead to new
investment in input-supplying facilities and forward linkages to investment in
output-using facilities" (Hirschman 1977:72). Hirschman argued that government
investment should be concentrated in activities where the linkage effects were


greatest, since this would maximize indigenous investment in related or "linked"
industries. Hirschman asserted that "agriculture certainly stands convicted on the
count of its lack of direct stimulus to the setting up of new activities through link-
age effects-the superiority of manufacturing in this respect is crushing" (Hirsch-
man 1958:109-10). Therefore, Hirschman argued, investment in industry would
generally lead to more rapid and more broadly based economic growth than would
investment in agriculture. Hirschman's analysis thus reinforced ECLA's policy
recommendation that priority be given to import substitution of manufactures.
Ironically, Lewis's two-sector growth model, which led many development
economists to focus heavily on the role of industry in economic development, led
others, in the early 1960s, to stress the interdependence between agricultural and
industrial growth. In an article comparing a Lewis-type "classical" model with a
neoclassical growth model, Jorgenson (1961) argued that growth in nonfarm em-
ployment depended on the rate of growth of the agricultural surplus. Jorgenson's
analysis and similar analyses by Ranis (1963, 1964), Ranis and Fei (1961), and
Stephen Enke (1962a, 1962b) showed that food shortages could choke off growth
in the nonfarm sector by making its labor supply less than infinitely elastic. These
authors therefore concluded that in order to avoid falling into a low-level equilib-
rium trap, in the early stages of development a country probably needed to make
some net investment in agriculture to accelerate the growth of its agricultural
Many agricultural economists found it "shocking that general econo-
mists such as Jorgenson and Enke felt it necessary to argue the case for some
investment in agriculture" (Johnston 1970:378). In a seminal article entitled "The
Role of Agriculture in Economic Development" (1961), Johnston and JohnW. Mel-
lor drew on insights from the Lewis model to stress the importance of agriculture
as a motive force in economic growth. They argued that, far from playing a passive
role in development, agriculture could make five important contributions to the
structural transformation of Third World economies: It could provide labor, capital,
foreign exchange, and food to a growing industrial sector and could supply a mar-
ket for domestically produced industrial goods. They argued further that the nature
of the interrelationships between agriculture and industry at various stages of de-
velopment had important implications for the types of agricultural and industriali-
zation strategies that would be most likely to succeed.
Johnston and Mellor's article and William H. Nicholls's influential article,
"The Place of Agriculture in Economic Development" (1964), were instrumental
in encouraging economists to view agriculture as a potential positive force in de-
velopment, and they helped to stimulate debate on the interdependence of agricul-
tural and industrial growth. This in turn led to a growing interest in the empirical
measurement of intersectoral resource transfers during the course of development.
The work of neoclassical agricultural economists during the 1960s stressed
not only the interdependence of agriculture and industry and the potentially impor-
tant role that agriculture could play in economic development but also the impor-
tance of understanding the process of agricultural growth per se if that potential


was to be exploited.7 The need for a better understanding of the process of agricul-
tural growth was further emphasized by some of the agricultural development ex-
periences of the 1950s and early 1960s.

The Influence of the Agricultural Development Programs of the 1950s and
1960s on Western Development Thought

Debates among Western economists about the role of agriculture in development
did not take place in a vacuum; they were strongly influenced by the rural develop-
ment experiences of Third World nations. Indeed, an important characteristic of
the literature on agricultural development since the 1950s has been its movement
from a priori theorizing toward empirical research.
Despite the emphasis that development economists placed on industrialization
during the 1950s, governments of many low-income countries and donor agencies
undertook a number of activities aimed at increasing agricultural output and rural
incomes. The experience gained in these efforts was important in developing a bet-
ter understanding of intersectoral relationships and the constraints on agricultural
During the 1950s the approach of European and North American agricultural
economists to development was colored by the historical experiences of their own
countries and by their training in the then current theories of development econom-
ics. For example, most Western agricultural economists working on problems of
Third World agriculture during this period believed that the problem of rural
surplus labor could be resolved by transferring "excess" rural workers to urban in-
dustry. It was also widely assumed that Western agricultural advisers could directly
transfer agricultural technology and models of agricultural extension from high-
income countries to the Third World, that community development programs could
help rural people overcome the shackles of traditional farming and inequitable
land-tenure systems, and that food aid could serve humanitarian needs and provide
jobs for rural people.
Agricultural development efforts of the 1950s placed heavy emphasis on the
direct transfer of agricultural technology from high-income countries to the Third
World and on the promotion of the U.S. model of agricultural extension. These
efforts were based on what Hayami and Ruttan (1971) called the "diffusion model"
of agricultural development. The diffusion model assumed that Third World farm-
ers could substantially increase their agricultural productivity by allocating exist-
ing resources more efficiently and by adopting agricultural practices and
technologies from the industrial countries.
Like the diffusion model, the community development effort of the 1950s and
early 1960s assumed that small farmers were often poor decisionmakers who re-
quired outside assistance in planning local development projects (Stevens
1977b:5). Community development grew out of the cold-war atmosphere of the
1950s, when Western foreign assistance programs were searching for a non-


revolutionary approach to rural change. Community development advocates as-
sumed that villagers, meeting with community development specialists, would ex-
press their "felt needs" and unite to design and implement self-help programs
aimed at promoting rural development. The community development effort also
implicitly assumed that rural development could be achieved through the direct
transfer of Western agricultural technologies and social institutions, such as local
democracy, to the rural areas of the Third World.8
The failure of many agricultural extension programs to achieve rapid increases
in agricultural output and the inability of community development projects to solve
the basic food problem in many countries (particularly India in the mid-1950s) led
to a reevaluation of the diffusion model of agricultural development. Two elements
were critical in this reappraisal. First, it became apparent that in many countries
there were important structural barriers to rural development, such as highly con-
centrated political power and asset ownership. The research by economists such as
Doreen Warriner (1955), Wolf Ladejinsky (see Walinsky 1977), Thomas F. Carroll
(1961), Philip M. Raup (1967), and Solon Barraclough (1973) on land tenure and
land reform in Asia, North Africa, and Latin America documented how institu-
tional barriers inhibited the expansion of agricultural output. These authors argued
that, in some countries, basic institutional reforms were prerequisites to effective
agricultural extension and community development. The second element leading
to a reevaluation of the diffusion model was research by scholars such as W. O.
Jones (1960), Raj Krishna (1967), and Jere R. Behrman (1968) that documented
the responsiveness of Third World farmers and consumers to economic incentives
and helped to demolish the myth of the "tradition-bound peasant." The findings of
these studies suggested that if farmers were not responsive to agricultural exten-
sion efforts, perhaps it was because extension workers had few profitable innova-
tions to extend. This viewpoint was advanced most forcefully in T. W. Schultz's
highly influential book, Transforming Traditional Agriculture (1964).
Schultz's book was iconoclastic. Schultz argued that Third World farmers and
herders, far from being irrational and fatalistic, were calculating economic agents
who carefully weighed the marginal costs and benefits associated with different
agricultural techniques. Through a long process of experimentation, these farmers
had learned how to allocate efficiently the factors of production available to them,
given existing technology. This implied that "no appreciable increase in agricul-
tural production is to be had by reallocating the factors at the disposal of farmers
who are bound by traditional agriculture. An outside expert, however skilled
he may be in farm management, will not discover any major inefficiency in the
allocation of factors" (Schultz 1964:39).
Schultz's argument that traditional agriculture was characterized by allocative
efficiency, despite low levels of per capital output, became known as the "efficient-
but-poor hypothesis." Citing evidence from Guatemala (Tax 1953) and India (sum-
marized in Hopper 1965) to support this hypothesis, Schultz argued that major in-
creases in per capital agricultural output in the Third World would come about only
if farmers were provided new, more productive factors of production, that is, new


agricultural technologies and the new skills needed to exploit them. The cause of
rural poverty, in other words, was the lack of profitable technical packages for
Third World farmers and the lack of investment in human capital needed to cope
with rapidly changing agricultural technologies. Schultz later attributed the low
levels of investment in agricultural research and rural education in most Third
World countries to national policies that undervalued agriculture (Schultz
Transforming TraditionalAgriculture called for a major shift from agricultural
extension toward investment in agricultural research and human capital. The book,
which appeared five years after the establishment of the International Rice Re-
search Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines and one year after the establishment of
the International Center for Maize and Wheat Improvement (CIMMYT) in
Mexico, reinforced the increasing emphasis being given to agricultural research by
the Rockefeller and Ford foundations and other donors in the 1960s. As a result of
IRRI's and CIMMYT's success in developing high-yielding dwarf varieties of rice
and wheat, which were rapidly adopted in many areas of the Third World during
the 1960s, the Green Revolution, or high-payoff input model, replaced the diffu-
sion/community development model as the dominant agricultural development
model for field practitioners (Hayami and Ruttan 1971).
The appearance of the high-yielding grain varieties had important effects on
the theory as well as on the practice of agricultural development. Several authors,
such as Kazushi Ohkawa (1964), Mellor (1966), and Ohkawa and Johnston (1969),
noted that the new grain-fertilizer technologies were highly divisible and scale neu-
tral, allowing them to be incorporated into existing systems of small-scale agricul-
ture. Therefore, these authors argued, intensification of agricultural production
based on high-yielding cereal varieties offered the opportunity to provide produc-
tive employment for the rapidly growing rural labor force, and it also produced the
wage goods needed for an expanding industrial labor force. The high-yielding vari-
eties, it was argued, made it possible to achieve both employment and output
The early enthusiasm for the Green Revolution was met by a barrage of criti-
cism by Francine Frankel (1971), Keith Griffin (1974), and others. These authors
argued that the new varieties often benefited mainly landlords and larger farmers
in ecologically favored areas, but they frequently impoverished small farmers and
tenants, particularly those in upland areas, by inducing lower grain prices and evic-
tions from the land as landlords found it profitable to farm the land themselves
using mechanization.
Although some authors, such as Lester Brown (1970), did tend to oversell the
accomplishments of the Green Revolution, in Asia the impact of the new varieties
was substantial. They have had a smaller effect in Latin America, however, where
a high percentage of small farmers live in poor natural resource zones (Pineiro et
al. 1979), and they have had little impact in Sub-Saharan Africa. Overall, high-
yielding varieties accbunted for about half the area planted to wheat and rice in the
Third World in the early 1980s (Dalrymple 1985).


Grant Scobie and Rafael Posada (1984) and Yijiiro Hayami (1984) have
evaluated some of the income distribution effects of the new varieties. These au-
thors find that within villages there has been little difference between small farm-
ers' and large farmers' rates of adoption of the modem varieties. Farmers in upland
areas, however, may have been hurt relative to farmers in irrigated areas because
the new varieties are more suited to irrigated conditions. Low-income consumers,
who spend a high proportion of their income on foodgrains, have been major ben-
eficiaries of the larger harvests and lower prices made possible by the Green Revo-
lution. One of the important lessons of the 1950s and 1960s is that, with rising
population pressure on land throughout the Third World, technological change
must be included as a central component in both the theory and practice of agricul-
tural and rural development.

Radical Political Economy and Dependency Perspectives on Agriculture

Western development economics was challenged in the 1960s and 1970s by the
emergence and rapid growth of radical political economy and dependency models
of development and underdevelopment. The radical political economy models
have their roots in the writings of Lenin on imperialism and Karl Kautsky on ag-
riculture, and in the post-World War II writings of Paul Baran and other Marxist
economists. Baran, in an important article entitled "On the Political Economy of
Backwardness" (1952), argued that in most low-income countries it would be im-
possible to bring about broad-based capitalist development without violent
changes in social and political institutions. Although Baran was clearly ahead of
his time in identifying institutional and structural barriers to development and the
need to put effective demand at the center of development programs, he tended, as
did many of the Western development economists he was criticizing, to see small-
scale agriculture as incapable of making major contributions to economic growth.
For example, Baran accepted the view that the marginal product of labor often
approached zero in agriculture, and therefore "there is no way of employing it
[labor] usefully in agriculture." Farmers "could only be provided with oppor-
tunities for productive work by transfer to industry." Baran, like many economists
of the time, believed that "very few improvements that would be necessary in order
to increase productivity can be carried out within the narrow confines of small-
peasant holdings" and that, therefore, farm consolidation was necessary.
Marxist analysis of agricultural and rural development was further advanced
in the 1950s and 1960s by several Latin American scholars, who often blended
Marxian analyses with dependency theory. 1 The dependency interpretation of un-
derdevelopment was first proposed in the 1950s by the Economic Commission for
Latin America, under the leadership of Raul Prebisch. The basic hypothesis of this
perspective is that underdevelopment is not a stage of development but the result
of the expansion of the world capitalist system. Underdevelopment, in other
words, is not simply the lack of development; it is a condition of impoverishment


brought about by the integration of Third World economies into the world capitalist
system. Although a number of different views of dependency have been put for-
ward by scholars such as Osvaldo Sunkel (1972), Celso Furtado (1970), Andr6
Gunder Frank (1966), J. Galtung (1971), and others, the following definition of
dependency by T. Dos Santos has been widely cited: "By dependency we mean a
situation in which the economy of certain countries is conditioned by the develop-
ment and expansion of another economy to which the former is subjected" (Dos
Santos 1970:231)."
Dependency theorists implicitly argued that trade was often a zero-sum
game-that low-income countries ("the periphery") were pauperized through both
a process of unequal exchange with the industrialized world ("the center") and re-
patriation of profits from foreign-owned businesses. Capitalist growth in the
periphery was not self-sustaining; it was stunted by policies favoring import sub-
stitution of luxury goods and export of agro-industrial products, often produced on
large estates. These policies limited the internal market for consumer goods (in-
cluding food and other agricultural products) and led to impoverishment of the
mass of small farmers. Meaningful reform was blocked by an alliance of the landed
elite, local bourgeoisie, and multinational firms, all of which benefited from the
dependency relationship.
In the 1960s, dependency theory was imported into Africa from Latin
America. Since the mid-1960s Samir Amin has provided leadership in developing
a Marxist version of dependency theory. In Accumulation on a World Scale (1974b)
and Unequal Development (1976) Amin presented an analytical framework of un-
derdevelopment in Africa based on surplus extraction and the domination of the
world capitalist system. Amin has provided valuable insights into the development
process, but his prescriptions for African agriculture have vacillated over time.
During the 1960s Amin favored animal traction, promoted industrial crops, and
argued that traditional social values were a serious constraint on development at
the village level. He also argued that the transition to privately owned small farms
was a precondition for socialism (Amin 1965:210-11, 231). By the early 1970s
Amin had reversed himself and recommended the collectivization of agricultural
production, and he abandoned his support for animal traction and industrial crops
(Amin 1971:231; 1973:56).
These criticisms notwithstanding, the radical scholars made several important
contributions to the understanding of agriculture and rural development. First,
they helped demolish the myth of "a typical underdeveloped country" by stressing
that each country's economic development had to be understood in the context of
that country's historical experience. For example, they argued that Schultz's con-
cept of "traditional agriculture"-a situation where farmers have settled into a low-
level equilibrium after years of facing static technology and factor prices-
abstracted from the historical process of integration of individual Third World
economies into the world capitalist system, and therefore was not a very useful
analytical concept. Second, in arguing that rural poverty in the Third World re-
sulted from the functioning of a global capitalist economy, the radical writers fo-


caused attention on the relationships between villagers and the wider economic sys-
tem. Unlike Schultz, who attributed rural poverty to the lack of productive agricul-
tural technologies and human capital, radical scholars stressed the importance of
the linkages and exchange arrangements that tied villages to the rest of the econo-
my. Third, the radical economists directly attacked what Hirschman (1981a:3) has
called the "mutual benefit claim" of development economics, the assertion that
economic relations between high-income and low-income countries (and among
groups within low-income countries) could be shaped in a way to yield benefits for
all. In disputing this claim, the radical scholars stressed that economic develop-
ment was more than just a technocratic matter of determining how best to raise per
capital GNP. Development involved restructuring institutional and political re-
lationships, and the radicals urged neoclassical economists to include these politi-
cal considerations explicitly in their analyses. In Alain de Janvry's words, "Eco-
nomic policy without political economy is a useless and utopian exercise" (de Jan-
vry 1981:263).
Both the radical analyses and the Western dual-sector models of the 1960s suf-
fered from some of the same shortcomings: abstract theorizing, inadequate atten-
tion to the need for technical change in agriculture, lack of attention to the biologi-
cal and location-specific nature of agricultural production processes, and lack of a
solid micro foundation based on empirical research at the farm and village level.
Recognition of some of these shortcomings was an important element leading to a
reevaluation of the goals and approaches of development economics and of the
role of agriculture in reaching those goals in the period following 1970.


The Broadening of Development Goals

Around 1970, mainstream Western development economics began to give greater
attention to employment and the distribution of real income, broadly defined. This
shift in emphasis came about for at least three reasons. The first was ideological, a
response to the radical critique of Western development economics, especially the
critique of the "mutual benefit claim" discussed previously. The goal of economic
growth for Third World countries was seriously questioned by this critique, and
some development economists may have felt the need to redefine the goals of de-
velopment more broadly in order to preserve the legitimacy of their subdiscipline.
Second, from the 1960s onwards it became apparent that rapid economic
growth in some countries, such as Pakistan, Nigeria, and Iran, had deleterious,
and in some cases disastrous, side effects. Hirschman argued that development
economists were forced to reevaluate the goals of their profession because

the series of political disasters that struck a number of Third World countries from
the sixties on were clearly somehow connected with the stresses and strains


accompanying development and "modernization." These development disasters,
ranging from civil wars to the establishment of murderous authoritarian regimes,
could not but give pause to a group of social scientists who, after all, had taken up
the cultivation of development economics in the wake of World War II not as nar-
row specialists, but impelled by the vision of a better world. As liberals, most of
them presumed that "all good things go together" and took it for granted that if
only a good job could be done in raising the national income of the countries con-
cerned, a number of beneficial effects would follow in the social, political, and
cultural realms.
When it turned out instead that the promotion of economic growth entailed
not infrequently a sequence of events involving serious retrogression in those
other areas, including the wholesale loss of civil and human rights, the easy self-
confidence that our subdiscipline exuded in its early stages was impaired
(Hirschman 1981a:20-21).

The third reason for the reevaluation of development goals was the growing
awareness among development economists that even in countries where rapid eco-
nomic growth had not contributed to social turmoil, the benefits of economic
growth often were not trickling down to the poor and that frequently the income
gap between rich and poor was widening (see, for example, Fishlow 1972; Nugent
and Yotopoulos 1979; and Streeten 1979). Even where the incomes of the poor
were rising, often they were rising so slowly that the poor would not be able to
afford decent diets or housing for at least another generation.
Rather than simply waiting for increases in average per capital incomes to
"solve" the problems of poverty and malnutrition; economists, political leaders in
the Third World, and the leaders of major donor agencies argued in the early 1970s
that greater explicit attention needed to be paid to employment, income distribu-
tion, and "basic needs," such as nutrition and housing. For example, when Robert
McNamara was president of the World Bank, he called on it to redirect its activities
toward helping people in the bottom 40 percent of the income distribution scale in
low-income countries (McNamara 1973).
These growth-with-equity concerns stimulated a number of important theoret-
ical and policy debates during the 1970s. The first debate concerned the interac-
tions between income distribution and rates of economic growth. A number of
economists during the 1970s included income distribution explicitly in their
frameworks of analysis, and several examined the interdependence between in-
come growth, income distribution, and other development goals, such as literacy
and health.2 These analyses focused on changes not only in the size distribution of
income during the course of development (for example, Chenery et al. 1974; Adel-
man and Morris 1973) but in the functional distribution. For example, attention
was given to the impact of economic growth on small farmers (Stevens 1977a; Fei
et al. 1979) and on women (Boserup 1970; Tinker and Bramsen 1976; Spencer
A second debate centered on employment generation and the possible exist-
ence of employment-output trade-offs in industry and agriculture. Although Folke
Dovring (1959) had shown that the absolute number of people engaged in agricul-


ture in developing countries would probably continue to grow for several decades,
most economists during the 1960s still assumed that urban industry would absorb
most of the new entrants to the labor force. By 1970, however, it had become appar-
ent that urban industry in most countries could not expand quickly enough in the
short run to provide employment for the expanding rural labor force. Hence, the
concern of development planners shifted to finding ways to hold people in the
countryside (Eicher et al. 1970).
The concern about creating rural jobs raised a number of questions in both
agriculture and industry about the relative output and employment-generation
capacities of large and small enterprises. In agriculture, debate centered on how
much emphasis should be given to improving small farms as opposed to creating
larger and more capital- intensive farms, ranches, and plantations. Empirical evi-
dence from the late 1960s and early 1970s revealed that the economies of size in
tropical agriculture were more limited than previously believed and that the im-
provement of small farms often resulted in greater output and employment per hec-
tare than did large-scale farming. In industry, the small-versus-large debate led to
a number of empirical studies of rural small-scale enterprises (see Chuta and
Liedholm 1984). In both agriculture and industry the concern with possible
employment-output trade-offs also stimulated research on the choice of appropri-
ate production techniques.
During the 1970s economists and planners also began to give explicit consider-
ation to the impact of development programs on nutrition. Empirical studies re-
vealed that increases in average per capital income did not always lead to improved
nutrition and that at times malnutrition actually increased with growing incomes
(Berg 1973; Reutlinger and Selowsky 1976). Therefore, many analysts argued that
nutrition projects targeted to the poor and malnourished were needed to supple-
ment other development activities (Pinstrup-Anderson 1981).

Implications for Agriculture

The change in orientation of development economics in the early 1970s implied a
much greater role for agriculture in development programs. Because the majority
of the poor in most Third World countries live in rural areas and because food prices
are a major determinant of the real income of both the rural and urban poor, the low
productivity of Third World agriculture was seen as a major cause of poverty. Fur-
thermore, because urban industry had generally provided few jobs for the rapidly
growing labor force, development planners increasingly concentrated on ways to
create productive employment in rural areas, if only as a holding action until the
rate of population growth declined and urban industry could create more jobs.
(Nonetheless, investment policies in many countries continued to favor urban
areas [see Lipton 1977].) The need to create productive rural employment was un-
derlined by a growing awareness of the increasing landlessness in many parts of
the Third World, particularly South Asia (Singh n.d.), Latin America (de Janvry


1981), and a few countries in Africa (Ghai and Radwan 1983).
It soon became apparent that if agriculture was to play a more important role
in development programs, policymakers needed a more detailed understanding of
rural economies than that provided by the simple two-sector models of the 1950s
and early 1960s. In the late 1960s and early 1970s there was a rapid expansion of
micro-level research on agricultural production and marketing, farmer decision-
making, the performance or rural-factor markets, and rural nonfarm employ-
ment. "This micro-level research documented the complexity of many Third World
farming and marketing systems and complemented the macro-level work begun in
the 1950s on modeling agricultural growth and intersectoral relationships.

Research Findings of The 1970s

Modeling Agricultural Growth
As policymakers looked to agriculture to provide more employment and wage
goods for the rapidly expanding labor force, attempts to model the process of ag-
ricultural growth assumed increased importance. Hayami and Vernon Ruttan's
induced-innovation model of agricultural development was a major contribution
of the 1970s. Hayami and Ruttan (1971) argued that there are multiple technologi-
cal paths to agricultural growth, each embodying a different mix of factors of pro-
duction, and that changes in relative-factor prices can guide researchers to select
the most "efficient" path for a country. This argument implied that countries with
different-factor endowments would have different efficient growth paths and that
the wholesale importation of agricultural technology from industrialized countries
to the Third World could lead to highly inefficient patterns of growth. Hayami and
Ruttan argued that relative-factor prices not only affected technological develop-
ment but often played an important role in guiding the design of social institu-
Other major efforts to model the process of agricultural growth included de-
tailed agricultural-sector analyses (such as in Thorbecke and Stoutjesdijk 1971,
and Mantesch et al. 1971); the work of Mellor and of Johnston and Peter Kilby dis-
cussed below; and the attempt by some radical scholars, notably de Janvry (1981),
to move from a purely global, abstract explanation of rural poverty to a neo-
Marxist analysis on a micro level.

Intersectoral Relationships
The 1970s also witnessed a great expansion in the theoretical and empirical re-
search begun by economists in the 1960s on the interdependence between agricul-
tural and nonagricultural growth. Particularly noteworthy was the work of Mellor
and of Johnston and Kilby (1975).15 Mellor argued that it was possible to design
employment-oriented strategies of development based on the potential growth link-
ages inherent in the new high-yielding grain varieties."6 Mellor's analysis drew
heavily on empirical evidence from India. Unlike many authors who mainly stres-


sed how the new varieties could increase total food supplies, Mellor emphasized
that the new varieties could also raise the incomes of foodgrain producers, thereby
generating increased effective demand for a wide variety of labor-intensive prod-
ucts. Indeed, Mellor saw most of the potential growth in employment being out-
side the foodgrain sector itself, in sectors producing labor-intensive goods such as
dairy products, fruit, other consumer products, and agricultural inputs. This ex-
panded employment was made possible by the simultaneous increase in the effec-
tive demand for these products and in the supply of inexpensive wage goods in the
form of foodgrains. Much of Mellor's analysis focused on the types of agricultural
and industrial policies needed to exploit these growth linkages of the new grain
Johnston and Kilby analyzed "the reciprocal interactions between agricultural
development and the expansion of manufacturing and other nonfarm sectors"
(Johnston and Kilby 1975:xv). In particular, they focused on the factors affecting
the rates of labor transfer between sectors and the level and composition of inter-
sectoral commodity flows. Drawing on empirical evidence from England, the
United States, Japan, Taiwan, Mexico, and the Soviet Union, Johnston and Kilby
argued that the size distribution of farms was a critical determinant of the demand
for industrial products in a developing economy. They showed that broad-based
agricultural growth was more effective than estate production in stimulating the
demand for industrial products and hence in speeding the structural transformation
of the economy. Johnston and Kilby's analysis strongly supported the view that
concentrating agricultural development efforts on the mass of small farmers in
low-income countries, rather than promoting a bimodal structure of small and large
farms, would lead to faster growth rates of both aggregate economic output and

Factor Markets and Employment Generation
Concern for creating jobs stimulated research during the 1970s on rural labor mar-
kets and employment. Krishna (1973) addressed the basic methodological problem
of defining underemployment and unemployment in rural economies. Noting that
most unemployment studies use definitions appropriate to industrial economies,
Krishna identified four different criteria commonly used to classify people as un-
deremployed or unemployed: (1) a time criterion, according to which a person is
underemployed if he or she is gainfully occupied for less time than some full-
employment standard; (2) an income criterion, by which an individual is underem-
ployed or unemployed if he or she earns less than some desired minimum; (3) a
willingness criterion, which defines a person as underemployed or unemployed if
he or she is willing to work longer hours at the prevailing wage; and (4) a productiv-
ity criterion, which defines a worker as unemployed if the worker's marginal prod-
uct is zero. Krishna showed that different policy measures were appropriate for
dealing with each type of underemployment.
During the 1970s several economists, particularly those associated with the


International Labour Office (ILO), spoke of dethroning GNP as the target and indi-
cator of development and replacing growth strategies with employment-oriented
approaches (see, for example, Seers 1970). During the first half of the 1970s the
ILO dispatched missions to Colombia, Sri Lanka, Kenya, the Philippines, and
Sudan to draw up programs to expand employment (ILO 1970, 1971, 1972, 1974,
1976b). The ILO missions "studied just about everything-population, education,
income distribution, appropriate technology, multinationals" (Little 1982:214),
but they frequently lacked the detailed information needed to evaluate where and
to what degree employment-output trade-offs existed in these countries. The im-
pact of the ILO studies was further limited as research during the 1970s dem-
onstrated that, because 60-80 percent of the poor in most Third World countries
were employed in some fashion, the critical policy issue was not one of creating
jobs per se but one of increasing the productivity of workers already employed in
small-scale agriculture and nonfarm enterprises. The ILO studies were, nonethe-
less, important in stimulating research on labor markets and on the impact of
factor-price distortions on output and employment.
A large number of studies during the 1970s that evaluated the performance of
labor markets in low-income countries generally found that at peak periods of the
agricultural cycle there was little unemployment in rural areas, although at other
periods of the year there were labor surpluses. The studies also documented that
earlier researchers had frequently overestimated the size of these surpluses because
they had failed to take account of the considerable time devoted to rural nonfarm
enterprises and to walking to and from fields. Studies also confirmed that labor
markets in most countries were generally competitive, with wage rates, particu-
larly in rural areas, following seasonal patterns of labor demand (see Berry and
Sabot 1978).
The labor-market research also documented that when labor was misallocated,
in many situations the misallocation was due not only to imperfections in labor
markets, but to poorly functioning markets for other factors of production as well.
Overvalued exchange rates and subsidized credit, for example, often encouraged
excessive substitution of capital for labor in low-wage economies. Concern about
the impact of such factor-price distortions on output and employment stimulated
research on the choice of technique in agricultural production and processing (see
Byerlee et al. 1983) and on the functioning of rural financial markets in low-
income countries (Adams and Graham 1984).
In the late 1960s and early 1970s the concern for employment generation led
to questions about the productivity and labor-absorption capacity of large farms
and ranches versus those of small farms. A large number of scholars (for example,
Dorner and Kanel 1971; Barraclough 1973; Berry 1975; and Berry and Cline 1979)
documented the strong economic case for land reform in many Third World coun-
tries because of the higher employment and land productivity potential of small
family farms. The higher land productivity was largely due to greater use of labor
(mainly family labor) per unit of land. Although there was widespread agreement
among these scholars that land reform was an attractive policy instrument for rais-


ing farm output, increasing rural employment, and improving the equality of in-
come distribution, political support for land reform waned during the 1970s (de
Janvry 1984).

Rural-to-Urban Migration
Rural-to-urban migration was a major area of research during the 1960s and 1970s
because the rate of rural-to-urban migration in most Third World countries far out-
stripped the rates of growth of urban employment. This led to rising levels of open
urban unemployment. The concern of policymakers therefore shifted quickly from
trying to transfer surplus labor from agriculture to industry to trying to reduce "ex-
cessive" rates of urbanization.
Research by economists on migration in the Third World was sparked by
Michael Todaro's attempt in the late 1960s to explain the apparently paradoxical
phenomenon of accelerating rural-to-urban migration in the context of continu-
ously rising urban unemployment in Kenya. Todaro (1969) proposed a model (later
extended by John Harris and Todaro 1970) in which a potential migrant's decision
to migrate is motivated primarily by the difference between his or her expected
(rather than actual) urban income and the prevailing rural wage. The Harris-Todaro
model implied that attempts to reduce urban unemployment by creating more
urban jobs could paradoxically result in more urban unemployment rather than
less. By leading potential migrants to believe that their chances of getting an urban
job had increased, urban employment programs induced greater rural-to-urban
migration. Harris and Todaro therefore argued that urban unemployment could best
be addressed by reducing the incentives to migrate to the cities, for example, by
raising rural incomes via a broad range of agricultural and rural development pro-
grams. 1
The second approach to studying migration was spearheaded by several radi-
cal political economists who focused on the social, as opposed to the private,
benefits and costs of migration. Samir Amin, for example, argued that although
rural-to-urban migration might be privately profitable for the migrant, it imposed
important social costs on the sending area, including the loss of future village
leadership and the instability of rural families. Amin argued that these costs ex-
ceeded possible gains to the area from wage remittances to the home villages.
Although the net welfare impact of migration is obviously an important ques-
tion, many of the studies by radical scholars lacked empirical data to support their
conclusions. In a balanced and constructive assessment of both neoclassical and
radical political economy studies of migration in southern Africa, Knight and
Lenta (1980) concluded that there was not a clear picture of the net welfare impact
of migration in the countries supplying labor to the mines in South Africa.

Product Market Performance
Rapid income growth and urbanization put increasing pressures on markets for ag-


ricultural products, particularly food, during the 1960s and 1970s. In response,
economists undertook a number of studies to evaluate the performance of agricul-
tural product markets and suggest improvements.' These studies generally found
little support for allegations of widespread collusion and extraction of monopoly
profits by private merchants in Third World countries. They did, however, docu-
ment how insufficient infrastructure and the lack of reliable public information sys-
tems and other public goods often reduced market efficiency and lowered farmers'
incentives to specialize for market production. The studies were often critical of
state monopolies in the domestic food trade, citing the frequent high costs of state
marketing agencies. The studies identified important roles for the state in providing
public goods (better information systems, standardized weights and measures, and
so on) to facilitate private trading, price stabilization, and regulation of interna-
tional trade. More recently, there has been discussion of ways the state can ensure
adequate food supplies to the poor without disrupting normal market channels.

Farming Systems Research and Farmer Decisionmaking
During the late 1960s and the 1970s economists increasingly investigated the fac-
tors that influenced farmers' decisions concerning whether to adopt new crop vari-
eties and farming practices. This work eventually led to the development of farm-
ing systems research. Farming systems research attempts to incorporate farmers'
constraints and objectives into agricultural research by involving farmers in prob-
lem identification, on-farm agronomic trials, and extension (CIMMYT Econom-
ics Staff 1984).
Interest in farming systems research and the new household economics also
led to efforts to model the farm household as both a production and a consumption
unit (see Singh et al. n.d.). Inspired by A. V. Chayanov's (1966) work on the be-
havior of Russian peasants in the early 1900s, the farm-household models stressed
the need to understand how government policies could simultaneously affect both
the production and the consumption decisions of small farmers. For example,
these models showed that marketed surplus of a crop might, in some cir-
cumstances, actually decline as the crop's price was increased (even if production
of the crop rose) because the price increase would raise farm family income, and
some of this increased income would be spent on the good whose price had risen.

Summary: Research in the 1970s
The results of microeconomic research during the 1970s contributed to an accumu-
lation of knowledge about the behavior of farmers; constraints on the expansion of
farm and nonfarm production, income, and employment; the linkages between ag-
ricultural research and extension institutions; and the complexity and location-
specific nature of the agricultural development process. One of the major ac-
complishments of the 1970s was a large increase in knowledge about agricultural


development in Sub-Saharan Africa, an area often ignored by development
economists during the 1950s and early 1960s (see Eicher and Baker 1982). But the
increased orientation to micro-level research may have resulted in relatively less
attention being paid to macroeconomic research on food policy and the role that
agriculture can play in the structural transformation of Third World economies. A
major challenge, therefore, is to incorporate the micro-research findings into mod-
els that examine agriculture's role in a general equilibrium (or disequilibrium) con-

Development Programs of the 1970s: Integrated Rural Development and Basic

Reacting to some of the disappointments of the Green Revolution and the agricul-
tural growth-oriented programs of the 1960s, donors andThird World governments
turned increasingly their attention to integrated rural development and basic-needs
projects in the 1970s. Integrated rural development attempts to combine in one pro-
ject elements to increase agricultural production and to improve health, education,
sanitation, and a variety of other social services. Like the community development
projects of the 1950s, integrated rural development projects of the 1970s some-
times expanded social services much faster than they expanded the economic base
to support them, and they often proved to be extraordinarily complex and difficult
to implement and administer. Moreover, the inability of integrated rural develop-
ment projects to increase rapidly agricultural production often stemmed from the
lack of appropriate technical packages. Uma Lele (1975) reviewed seventeen in-
tegrated rural development projects in Africa and found that most of the projects
were based upon inadequate knowledge of local technical possibilities, small-
farmer constraints, and local institutions. The projects also tended to have very
high administrative costs, making them difficult to replicate over broader areas.
By 1980 many donors, such as the World Bank and the U.S. Agency for Interna-
tional Development, had retreated from integrated rural development projects or
had redesigned these projects to give greater emphasis to agricultural production. 9
The rise and decline of integrated rural development (1973-1980) was in some
ways very similar to the fate of community development between 1950 and 1957
(Holdcroft 1984).
In the mid-1970s the basic-needs approach was popularized by the Interna-
tional Labour Office (ILO 1976a) and subsequently spearheaded by a group of
economists within the World Bank under the leadership of Paul Streeten. The
basic-needs approach holds that development projects should give priority to in-
creasing the welfare of the poor directly through projects to improve nutrition, edu-
cation, housing, and so on, rather than focus mainly on increasing aggregate
growth rates.2"The basic-needs advocates supported their case by citing impressive
gains in life span, literacy, and nutrition in Cuba, Sri Lanka, and the People's Re-
public of China-countries that had emphasized basic needs. But the constraints


on the basic-needs approach were highlighted by Sri Lanka's inability during the
mid-1970s to continue to finance the centerpiece of its program, universal free rice
rations, which forced the government to shift to a more growth-oriented strategy.
Likewise, the rising cost of food subsidies in China raises questions about China's
ability to sustain its policy of cheap food for urban consumers (Lardy 1984).
Although investments in health, nutrition, education, and housing can con-
tribute importantly to the welfare of the poor and to the rate of economic growth,
the experience with the basic-needs approach suggests that low-income countries
also need to emphasize building the economic base to finance these investments.
By the early 1980s many economists were once again giving greater emphasis to
economic growth and to the sequence of different types of development activities,
such as investments in irrigation and health facilities. This shift in emphasis did
not imply a rejection of the growth-with-equity philosophy of the 1970s. Rather, it
reflected an increasing recognition of the impossibility of achieving a decent living
standard for the bulk of the rapidly growing populations in poor countries simply
by redistributing existing assets. This recognition led the World Bank to shift to a
more growth-oriented strategy in the early 1980s and the basic-needs approach
faded into the background.2
The research results and development experiences of the 1970s suggest that in
order to attain more rapid, more broad-based agricultural growth and rural develop-
ment, the following components will have to be emphasized in the coming decades:
strengthening of institutions in low-income countries for agricultural research, ad-
ministration, policy analysis, and training; renewed emphasis on analyzing ag-
ricultural development issues in broader macroeconomic frameworks; reevalua-
tion of the roles of international trade, food aid, and agricultural specialization in
an increasingly interdependent world food economy; and movement towards more
interdisciplinary approaches to problemsolving. All these require expansion of the
human-capital base of Third World countries. One of the clearest lessons of the
1960s and 1970s is that agricultural and rural development require strong local in-
stitutions and well-trained individuals. International research centers and expa-
triate advisers are at best complements to, not substitutes for, domestic research
systems and policy analysts. Because problems in the food system are typically
multifaceted, there is also a need to move toward more interdisciplinary ap-
proaches to problemsolving. Food policy research and farming systems research
(see Fresco and Poats in this book) are examples of areas where such interdis-
ciplinary approaches are proving useful.


Larry Lev, Carl Liedholm, Michael Morris, and Robert Stevens offered insightful com-
ments on an earlier draft of this paper. Bruce Johnston (1970) extensively reviewed the liter-
ature of the 1950s and 1960s on the role of agriculture in development.
1. Development economics began to emerge as a subdiscipline of economics in the
post-World War II period with the work of Nurkse, Mandelbaum, Rosenstein-Rodan,


Singer, Prebisch, and others. The first major text on economic development was W. Arthur
Lewis's influential The Theory ofEconomic Growth (1955). Lewis's emphasis on economic
growth set the tone for work in development economics during the "growth era" of the 1950s
and 1960s. In the introduction Lewis wrote, "The subject matter of this book is growth of
output per head of population and not distribution" (p. 9). Lewis did, however, include
an appendix entitled "Is Economic Growth Desirable?" For reviews of the history of de-
velopment economics, see Hirschman (1981a), Streeten (1979), Reynolds (1977, chap. 2),
and Little (1982).
2. This section draws heavily on Johnston's excellent review of the literature through
1970 on the role of agriculture in economic development.
3. For an excellent summary of the Lewis model, see Meier (1976:157-63); see also
Lewis (1972). For an analysis of the impact of Lewis's model on development economics,
see Gersowitz et al. (1982).
4. Lewis's statement that the marginal productivity of laborers in the noncapitalist
sector approached zero as a limiting case stimulated a large number of efforts to measure the
extent of surplus labor in agriculture. For a review of these efforts, see Kao, Anschel, and
Eicher (1964). For a critique of the concept of surplus labor in agriculture, see Schultz
(1964, chap. 4).
5. William H. Nicholls (1964) was one of the first critics of the rapid transfer of
surplus labor as a short-run strategy.
6. For a summary of this thesis, see Prebisch (1959). For critical reviews, see Kravis
(1970) and Little (1982, chap. 4). In recent years Prebisch has modified his views about
import substitution (see Prebisch 1981).
7. The 1960s literature on agricultural development is captured in the volumes edited
by Eicher and Witt (1964), Southworth and Johnston (1967), and Wharton (1969).
8. The community development approach emphasized the provision of social serv-
ices, which presaged the basic-needs approach to development in the late 1970s, described
later in this chapter. By emphasizing social services, community development differed from
other Western development efforts of the 1950s and 1960s, which focused mainly on in-
creasing average per capital incomes.
9. These arguments were most fully developed by Mellor and by Johnston and Kilby
in the 1970s. See the discussion of these authors' work in the second section of this chapter.
10. French scholars also made important contributions to the Marxist analysis of ag-
ricultural development during the 1960s and 1970s (see Petit 1982).
11. For critiques of the dependency school of thought in Latin America, see Cardoso
and Faletto (1979), and de Janvry (1981).
12. A standard reference is the influential book Redistribution With Growth by Chen-
ery et al. (1974). See also Seers (1970), and Adelman (1975).
13. See, for example, the volumes edited by Stevens (1977a); and Jones (1972).
14. For attempts to test the induced-innovation hypothesis empirically, see
Binswanger and Ruttan (1978).
15. See also the volume edited by Reynolds (1975).
16. Mellor's views are articulated in The New Economics of Growth: A Strategy for
India and the Developing World (1976). See also Mellor and Lele (1973).
17. The major extensions of the Harris-Todaro model and the empirical tests of it are
summarized in Todaro (1980).
18. Many of these studies are reviewed by Lele (1977) and Riley and Staatz (1981).
For a critique of some of these studies see Harriss (1979).
19. For excellent reviews of integrated rural development, see Ruttan (1975), de Jan-
vry (1981), and Johnston and Clark (1982).
20. The basic-needs approach is not simply a call for increased social welfare spend-
ing, however; it is also based on recognition of the importance of investment in human cap-


ital in economic growth and of the synergism of nutrition, health, and family-planning deci-
sions. For an excellent discussion of basic-needs projects and their relationships to rural
development, see Johnston and Clark (1982, chap. 4).
21. The World Bank's experience with basic needs is summarized by Streeten (1981).


Amin, Samir. 1974. Accumulation on a World Scale: A Critique of the Theory of Underde-
velopment. New York: Monthly Review Press.
Dalrymple, Dana G. 1985. The Development and Adoption of High Yielding Varieties of
Wheat and Rice in Developing Countries. American Journal ofAgricultural Econom-
ics 67:5:1067-1073.
Eicher, Carl K., and Doyle C. Baker. 1982. Research on Agricultural Development in Sub-
Saharan Africa:A Critical Survey. MSU International Development Paper No. 1. East
Lansing: Department of Agricultural Economics, Michigan State University.
Eicher, Carl K., and John M. Staatz, eds. 1984. Agricultural Development in the Third
World. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Hayami, Yujiro, and Vernon W. Ruttan. 1971. Agricultural Development:An International
Perspective. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press.
Johnston, Bruce F. 1970. Agriculture and Structural Transformation in Developing Coun-
tries: A Survey of Research. Journal of Economic Literature 3:2:369-404.
Johnston, Bruce E and Peter Kilby. 1975. Agriculture and Structural Transformation: Eco-
nomic Strategies in Late-Developing Countries. New York: Oxford University Press.
Lele, Uma. 1975. The Design ofRural Development: LessonsfromAfrica. Baltimore: Johns
Hopkins University Press for the World Bank.
Lewis, W. Arthur. 1954. Economic Development with Unlimited Supplies of Labour. Man-
chester School of Economic and Social Studies 22:2:139-91.
Mellor, JohnW. 1975. The New Economics of Growth: A Strategyfor India and the Develop-
ing World. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press.
Schultz, Theodore W. 1964. Transforming TraditionalAgriculture. New Haven: Yale Univer-
sity Press.


Social Science Perspectives
on Food in Africa


Recent assessments of the performance and prospects of African economies
portray a deepening crisis, centered on the problem of food supplies. Since the
early 1970s a rapidly rising number of Africans have had an increasingly difficult
time getting enough to eat. By all accounts, domestic food supplies are falling
further and further behind domestic needs. Both governments and consumers face
serious problems in procuring the kinds and quantities of food they want at prices
they can afford to pay. Chronic hunger and malnutrition are widespread and esca-
late quickly into famine in times of drought or national financial crisis. Easing
shortages with food from foreign sources has also become more difficult in the last
decade. World prices of grains have risen; unstable petroleum prices have put
heavy strains on many African countries' balances of payments and worsened their
terms of trade. Agricultural exports have not increased sufficiently to cover rising
import bills. Food aid to Africa has grown at unprecedented rates in the last dec-
ade, but it is adequate neither to meet short-term needs nor generate a long-run
solution to the crisis.
Social scientists attribute African economic stagnation and food deficits to ev-
erything from global economic and political conditions to backward African farm-
ing practices. Although most social scientists agree that the food crisis is the result
of many causes, they disagree about the relative importance of these causes and
their interactions. Explanations range from: (1) Africa is the unfortunate victim of
a world economy geared to serve the interests of wealthy industrial countries; to
(2) Africa's economic problems are the result of poor policy choices made by Afri-

This chapter is based on an earlier article by the author entitled "The Food Crisis and
Agrarian Change in Africa: A Review Essay," African Studies Review 27:2 (1984):59-112,
which was originally prepared for the Joint African Studies Committee of the Social Science
Research Council and the American Council of Learned Societies. Used with permission of
the publisher.


can governments, or the inability of these governments to implement sound
policies effectively, or both; and (3) the technology needed to increase the produc-
tivity of African farming systems has not yet been developed. The social science
literature cannot be reduced to a single, consistent explanatory argument-many
studies have produced multiple interpretations.
This chapter does not attempt to synthesize the social science literature on
food in Africa, but to review some of the important lines of interpretation and de-
bate. The discussion is organized as follows: (1) the quality of available evidence
about agricultural performance in Africa; (2) African agriculture and the world
economy; (3) the form and effects of African governments' policies towards agricul-
ture; (4) environmental constraints on expanding food production and subsequent
implications for technological development; (5) the idea of peasant rationality and
its implications for understanding agrarian change and policy; (6) relations be-
tween African systems of kinship, domestic organization, and agricultural prac-
tices; and (7) the effects of rural commercialization on economic and social dif-
ferentiation and structural change. In conclusion, a few comments are offered
about directions for further research.


International agencies from the World Bank to the Organization of African Unity
(OAU) have interpreted Africa's food crisis as a crisis of production, arising partly
from historical factors and partly from excessive efforts by African governments
to regulate and control economic activity within their countries (OAU 1981; World
Bank 1981). Since 1960, the international agencies argue, population growth, ur-
banization, and rising incomes, especially in urban areas, have caused demand for
marketed foodstuffs to outrun domestic productive capacity. This is especially true
for commodities such as wheat and rice, which make up a major part of urban resi-
dents' diets but are not commonly grown in Africa. Consequently, food imports
have increased rapidly at a time when the cost of other essential imports-notably
petroleum products-has risen sharply also. The resulting pressure on African
countries' balances of payments has been further exacerbated by the lagging output
of crops, according to the World Bank (1981). In turn, lagging production stems
from African governments' neglect of agriculture or their adoption of inappro-
priate policies toward trade, foreign exchange, and domestic prices.
To support the argument that Africa faces a crisis in agricultural production,
official and scholarly publications regularly cite aggregate production figures for
Africa as a whole. The reliability of national data on agricultural output is open to
serious question. Agricultural censuses and sample surveys, no matter how well
organized and administered, are subject to numerous sources of error and uncer-
tainty, stemming from problems such as farmers' unwillingness to disclose infor-
mation to potential tax assessors and selecting a representative sample of producers


in countries where there is no reliable census from which to prepare a sampling
frame. In recent years, moreover, the reliability of official marketing data as an
indicator of production has been reduced by the very factor to which the World
Bank attributes much of the crisis-increased governmental regulation of eco-
nomic transactions. Price controls, taxes, and state agricultural marketing schemes
have driven many transactions out of official marketing channels. Official control
of export marketing has, for example, caused large-scale smuggling in countries
such as Ghana and Niger (Jeffries 1982; Collins 1976) and, as in Tanzania, under-
mined governments' own programs of stabilization and rural development (Lele
and Candler 1981; Hyden 1980).
If the output exists but is hidden, where does it go? Does it go into illegal or
"parallel" markets or into higher standards of consumption for self-sufficient rural
households? Has output in fact declined? Local evidence suggests that all of these
things have happened, but there is no reliable statistical basis for estimating their
relative importance within particular localities, let alone on national or regional
levels. It is likely that official statistics for output have diverged further and further
from actual output in recent years, but neither the magnitude of the divergence nor,
in many cases, even the direction of the divergence is known.
To sum up, our ignorance of aggregate trends in agricultural output has in-
creased. In most cases the data are simply not good enough to warrant firm conclu-
sions about national-let alone continental-trends in agricultural output.
Nonetheless, such data are regularly cited both to show that agricultural production
in Africa is declining and to support arguments that this decline is primarily due to
global and/or national economic and political trends.


Much discussion of the impact of international economic forces and agencies on
African agriculture has revolved around a rather sterile debate over whether Africa
suffers from too much or too little integration into the world economy. Both argu-
ments have a substantial legacy of scholarly support. The first view-that African
agriculture suffers from excessive international influence-has gone through sev-
eral versions. Early critics of the colonial legacy decried African economies' de-
pendence on agricultural exports on the grounds that agricultural commodities face
unstable world prices and deteriorating terms of trade, both of which make African
economic development more difficult (Robson and Lury 1969). This argument en-
couraged newly independent African governments to adopt crash programs to di-
versify output through industrialization, programs that often absorbed more rev-
enue and foreign exchange than they generated. Later arguments shifted the
emphasis of discussion from the disadvantages of agricultural production per se to
the belief that capital accumulation on a world scale tended to siphon off surplus
from peripheral areas of the world economy, keeping African labor cheap and rela-
tively unproductive, in and outside agriculture (Amin 1976; Leys 1974).


Recently, rising food prices and imports have once again focused attention on
agricultural production and the disadvantages faced by African farmers in interna-
tional markets. Some scholars have argued that ifAfricans cannot hope to compete
effectively against developed countries' tariffs on tropical imports or against the
market power of international merchants of grain, improved seed, and fertilizer,
Africans should seek to protect themselves by becoming self-sufficient in
foodstuffs (Franke and Chasin 1980; OAU 1981; Food and Agriculture Organiza-
tion 1978b). Unfortunately, this self-sufficiency is difficult to achieve because
there are poor marketing systems and/or because it is profitable for African traders
and officials to deal in imported and donated food supplies (Harriss 1979). Ironi-
cally, a goal of self-sufficiency in food may also play directly into the hands of
foreign suppliers of improved agricultural inputs and techniques, thus increasing
other imports rather than total self-sufficiency. However, withdrawal from the
world market is no panacea, either in practice or as an intellectual solution to Af-
rica's agrarian problems.
Arguments supporting an open door policy rather than a self-sufficiency pol-
icy also need to be scrutinized. The World Bank and other international agencies
base their arguments for free trade on calculations that indicate that Africa's com-
parative advantage lies in traditional export crops (World Bank 1981; Pearson et al.
1981). What do such calculations mean? World markets are not perfectly competi-
tive, and Africa's most competitive exports, at world market prices, are not neces-
sarily those that represent the best returns to African resources. In addition, even if
African governments were to dismantle their own tariffs and foreign exchange con-
trols, they would continue to face these same barriers to trade in the industrialized
countries they sell to.
Another dimension to the self-sufficiency versus open door debate is that
foreign governments and donor agencies already intervene directly in African
domestic food production. Foreign agencies and even private firms sponsor an in-
creasing number of rural development plans and projects in Africa which, in turn,
provide a market for foreign advice and inputs. Competition among donors has
even become an impediment to their own as well as to host governments' efforts to
reach agricultural producers (Franke and Chasin 1980; Pinckney et al. 1982). In
the wake of the long drought of the mid-1970s, for example, donor activity in some
Sahelian countries grew so intense that local officials were fully occupied in ad-
ministering foreign aid, and the same thing is happening in the Horn of Africa in
the 1980s.
The very agencies that exhort African governments to relinquish controls over
foreign transactions also hold these governments responsible for managing their
balances of payments and maintaining their creditworthiness in international finan-
cial circles. By opening their doors to U.S. farm surpluses and international ag-
ribusiness, African governments increase their vulnerability to fluctuations in
world supply and to the market power of multinational firms, and, consequently,
African citizens demand state protection against the risks and losses of interna-
tional trade. It is inherently contradictory to argue that African governments should


intervene less in their citizens' activities in order to increase their participation in
the international economy. In today's global economy, integration into world mar-
kets requires that governments take responsibility for managing foreign transac-
tions, which in turn requires effective management of the domestic economy.


Neither the form nor the consequences of African governments' policies can be
deduced from the logic of their circumstances-whether described in terms of de-
pendence, underdevelopment and class structure, or in terms of market forces and
technological imperatives. Although African bureaucrats sometimes behave like
"an executive committee of the [national or international] bourgeoisie," extracting
surpluses from African farmers without making any effort to increase their produc-
tive capacity (Leys 1978; Wolpe 1972), this phenomenon alone is not sufficient to
explain the behavior of postcolonial regimes. Exploiting peasants is not unam-
biguously advantageous for the accumulating classes, as writers from Nicholai I.
Bukharin and Evgenia Preobrazhensky (1922) to Alain de Janvry (1981) have
pointed out, nor do bureaucrats and capitalists always work together in Africa or
anywhere else.
On the other hand, neoclassical economists repeatedly exhort African govern-
ments to confine their economic activities to functions which the market cannot or
will not perform such as providing public goods and controlling the level of aggre-
gate demand, but these economists never discuss the conditions under which such
a strategy might be feasible. Failure to address this issue sometimes leads to out-
right contradiction. For example, in a development scheme in Mali the govern-
ment failed to procure adequate supplies of millet and sorghum because the official
price did not cover farmers' costs of production. Then a private firm was called in
and managed "to persuade farmers to deliver some 10,000 tons of cereals annu-
ally" at the official price (World Bank 1981:54). Far from demonstrating the World
Bank's thesis that price incentives are the most effective way to raise agricultural
output, this example suggests that private enterprise has a comparative advantage
in its exercise of extraeconomic coercion!
More generally, the literature on the food crisis fails to explain why African
governments have rather consistently failed to adopt the right policies even if the
right policies were identified. The argument that politicians and bureaucrats are
not farmers and, hence, neither understand farmers' problems nor act in their inter-
ests, is hardly convincing. Many African politicians and officials are farmers' sons
or daughters, and some own and even manage agricultural enterprises of their own
(Heyer et al. 1981). On a theoretical level, it is insufficient to attribute government
policy to the attitudes of individual bureaucrats. In one of the few attempts to ex-
plain governmental policy choices, Robert H. Bates suggested that state policies
that discourage agricultural production reflect rational efforts by politicians and


bureaucrats to raise government revenues or consolidate state power (Bates 1981).
African countries with relatively good records of agricultural performance have
been those in which agricultural producers have acquired political power and used
it to design and enact policies favorable to agriculture, as occurred in Ivory Coast
and Kenya. Bates concluded that the key to agricultural progress elsewhere in Af-
rica is for farmers to gain power and use it to shift relative prices, government
taxes, and subsidies to their favor.
Like neoclassical economists, Bates apparently assumed that, once an agricul-
tural faction gained a foothold in the government, the resulting improvement in
agricultural incentives would be readily accessible to most producers, and the lead-
ers of the farmers' party would not try to use their power to appropriate all or most
of the resulting gains. The history of European settlers' political strategies and their
resulting impact on agricultural policies in Kenya, Rhodesia, and South Africa
suggests, however, that agricultural price supports and subsidies do not automati-
cally trickle down to the mass of small farmers (Palmer and Parsons 1977; Wilson
1971; Heyer et al. 1976). Even the avowedly promarket regimes of Kenya,
Malawi, and the Ivory Coast favor estate agriculture, promote parastatals, and
enact legislation to facilitate large land purchases (Kydd and Christiansen 1982;
World Bank 1978; Heyeret al. 1976). Bates reminded us, appropriately, that politi-
cians and bureaucrats are as rational or self-interested as are farmers; however, he
did not show that it is any easier to construct a theory of the state than to build
theories of market performance from the presumption of individual rationality
(Bates 1981).
That most postcolonial regimes in Africa took office under pressure (from
below, above, and within) to take responsibility for developing their economies
means they are obliged to adopt an interventionist stance towards economic ac-
tivities and institutions. Their mandate is a contradictory one. Because agriculture
is the principal source of foreign exchange, domestic incomes, and employment
for most African economies, governments need to raise agricultural production to
finance higher levels of imports and widen the domestic market. Also, agriculture
provides the principal tax base from which to draw government revenues and is the
major source of savings for nonagricultural investment. Extracting surpluses from
farmers reduces agricultural output and income, and vice versa. Thus, the formula-
tion and implementation of rural development strategies is a subject of debate and
political contention within the governing class.
In addition, both the form and effects of state policies toward agriculture are
shaped by relationships among farmers, traders, and consumers, and between
these groups and state agencies and personnel. Although few farmers' parties have
emerged in postcolonial Africa, farmers play an active role in shaping state
actions-both through organized political action and by encouraging their de-
scendants to seek wealth and influence outside of agriculture. Studies of farmers'
behavior and local rural conditions hold an important place in the social science
literature on food in Africa.



Concern over lagging agricultural production in Africa has stimulated considerable
research on cultivation techniques and ways to improve them. Agronomists have
made progress in identifying environmental constraints to agricultural output and
productivity. African soils are fragile, subject to intense heat and extremes of mois-
ture or dryness, and tend to deteriorate quickly under conditions of increasingly
regular or intensive exploitation. Agricultural yields are often low, and raising
them requires enormous inputs of labor, except in areas where it is possible to prac-
tice long-fallow systems of cultivation (Kamarck 1976; Kowal and Kassam 1978;
Ruthenberg 1980). Even if enough labor were available, possibilities for increased
output are constrained in semiarid areas by the brevity of the rainy season and in
humid areas by soil erosion and leaching, which increase with more intense cultiva-
tion. Population densities in many parts of Africa are low compared with other trop-
ical regions; it used to be argued that Africans were not impelled by population
pressure to devise ecologically appropriate methods of intensifying agricultural
production (Ruthenberg 1980; United States Department of Agriculture 1981).
Recent research fosters a growing appreciation of the appropriateness of indig-
enous methods of cultivation (see references in Berry 1984; Eicher and Baker
1982). Agronomists recognize that, due to the physical fragility of tropical soils,
deep plowing often contributes to leaching and erosion; however, traditional culti-
vation methods such as heaping, ridging, intercropping, and minimum tillage pre-
vent deterioration of the soil structure (Lal and Greenland 1979). Farm-
management researchers collect detailed data on input-output coefficients, costs
of production, and technical requirements of alternative crop regimes and methods
of cultivation, then use this data to measure the profitability of alternative sets of
farming practices (Heyer 1971; Upton 1973; Collinson 1982; Norman 1972). These
studies contribute to a growing consensus that labor, rather than land, is often the
crucial constraint to African agricultural production.
The discovery that African farmers are often more concerned with saving
labor than with conserving cultivated land strengthened economists' faith in the
economic rationality of African farmers. Farmers' indifference to new crops with
labor requirements that conflict with those of established ones, or to new
techniques that only increase yield at the cost of considerably increased labor in-
puts, now appears to be consistent with local-factor endowments and is, hence,
economically efficient (Tourte and Moomaw 1977; Richards 1983a; Cleave 1974).
This leads to a new appreciation of some traditional farming practices that ag-
ronomists had previously denigrated because of their low yields. For instance,
mixed cropping, long fallowing, and cultivation of crops such as cassava may
maximize returns to labor, especially in seasons of peak demand, and are worthy
of greater attention by extension agents and agricultural researchers. Further re-
search demonstrates that various practices such as mixed cropping, combining up-


land and valley plots, and cultivating drought-resistant but low-yielding crops such
as finger millet, bulrush millet, sorghum, and cassava tend to reduce variations in
total farm output and thus contribute to farmers' security (Richards 1983b). On the
basis of these findings, agronomists modify or redesign research strategies, and
international agricultural research institutes hire some economists who place new
emphasis on developing crop varieties or cultivation methods that will not destroy
tropical soil structures or threaten the security or savings in labor time provided by
traditional practices (Terry et al. 1981; Plucknett et al. in this volume).
Although scholarly understanding of African agricultural practices has clearly
advanced in recent years, problems remain. Adaptation of Green Revolution
technology to specific African microenvironments remains spotty, although there
have been some notable successes. High-yielding varieties of maize are widely
grown in Kenya, Zambia, and Zimbabwe; high-yielding varieties of hybrid oil
palms, in Nigeria and Sierra Leone (Eicher and Baker 1982). However, many re-
searchers continue to have an overly simplistic concentration on single-factor ex-
planations: They have simply substituted labor for land as the scarce factor in Afri-
can agriculture, and, consequently, have focused research entirely on relieving this
constraint. Thus it has been argued that mechanization is both inevitable and desir-
able as a strategy for expanding productive capacity, especially for expanding the
capacity to grow domestically foodstuffs that are currently imported (Gaury 1977;
Hart 1982). In keeping with this argument, several governments, particularly in
West Africa, have launched or underwritten large-scale schemes for mechanized
rice production. Not only do such projects often absorb more foreign exchange or
government revenue than they generate (Pearson et al. 1981), they may prove en-
vironmentally damaging. The technique used to cultivate rice on large commercial
farms in northern Ghana has been described as "mechanized shifting cultivation."
It tends to destroy the physical structure of the soil, exhaust soil nutrients, disrupt
local food supplies, and foster social tension and conflict rather than alleviate food
shortages or reduce imports (Shepherd 1981).
Other studies conclude that African farmers' practices are often closely cali-
brated to local environmental conditions; these studies emphasize the importance
of economic and social constraints to farmers' incomes and productivity. David
Norman and others point out that inefficiency in agricultural production often re-
flects poverty rather than ignorance or mismanagement (Norman 1972). Moreover,
technical change is not always an unmixed blessing. For example, agronomists
have long argued that closer integration of crop and livestock production will yield
important technical complementarities, such as manuring and animal traction, for
African farmers. However, these technical benefits from mixed farming might be
realized only at great cost-for example, if cattle are kept near arable fields during
the cropping season, their foraging may threaten crops and generate conflict be-
tween farmers and herd owners (Delgado 1978; Norman et al. 1981). Technical
progress is sometimes a mixed blessing and may founder on its own inherent



By the end of World War II, Europeans were becoming increasingly aware that co-
lonial rule was not only cumbersome and costly, but also unnecessary to the ad-
vancement of European economic interests in Africa. During the colonial period,
if not before, Africans were drawn irreversibly into world markets. Once the im-
mediate task of postwar reconstruction had been undertaken, the colonizers could
afford to relinquish formal political control, secure in the knowledge that Africans
would find it in their own interest to continue to do business with their erstwhile
rulers. Growing acceptance of the desirability and feasibility of decolonization
parallelled social scientists' new belief in the economic rationality of individual
Africans and in the power of this rationality to explain economic trends. The publi-
cation of W. Jones's (1960) essay, "Economic Man in Africa," on the eve of
independence reflected the tenor of the times.
Economic rationality can mean different things in different contexts. In formal
decisionmaking models, it is usually defined as the ability or willingness to make
choices in accordance with a consistent ordering of preferences among alternative
outcomes. Since in reality the future is uncertain, outcomes are never actually
known in advance, and it is therefore impossible to prove conclusively that be-
havior is perfectly rational. In practice, when people say that African farmers are
rational, they mean that farmers act not in accordance with instinct or custom but
on the basis of reasoned assessments of their circumstances. Appreciation of this
point contributes to advances in understanding African ecologies and the indige-
nous methods of cultivation previously described, and certainly represents an ad-
vance over the notion, often expressed by colonial officials, that African farmers
act without thinking.
It is not always easy to predict what rational farmers will do under changing
circumstances because they can apply multiple rationales to a situation. For exam-
ple, in the following scenario profit maximization and risk aversion, often held to
reflect mutually exclusive preferences or attitudes, are complementary ones: If the
price of a crop fluctuates seasonally so that farmers who need to exchange some of
their crops for cash may be forced to sell cheap at harvest time and buy dear for
home consumption later in the year, then the response of farmers to store their
crops for their own consumption increases these farmers' real income and reduces
their vulnerability to risk. In general, the presumption that individuals are rational
does not enable us to predict their behavior. Furthermore, efforts to explain agricul-
tural performance in terms of the rationality of peasants (or planners) frequently
prove inconsistent or tautological. One recent attempt to take account of the impact
of international price fluctuations on economic policy points out that international
prices of peanuts and rice are more unstable than that of millet. Therefore, the au-
thors argue, if Senegalese planners dislike instability, their comparative advantage
lies in producing more millet, less rice, and fewer peanuts. If they enjoy gambling,
presumably they should specialize completely in peanuts! The argument is per-
fectly circular (Jabara and Thompson 1980).


Even if one assigns unambiguous motives to particular economic acts, it does
not follow that the analysis of individual behavior is sufficient to explain social
processes. History results from the interactions of individuals-the behavior of
some affect the circumstances of others. For example, economists often argue that
higher prices for agricultural commodities will lead to faster growth of agricultural
output and incomes. Their case rests primarily on studies of farmers' responses to
changes in price that focus on a single crop (no other variables are considered).
These studies may be useful for purposes of exposition, but are inadequate for
thinking about agricultural performance and policy. In practice, there are many var-
iables, and their consequences must be accounted for in order to predict the effects
of price changes. If the price of maize rises while other prices remain unchanged,
farmers may produce more maize by shifting land and labor from other crops, leav-
ing total output unchanged (Helleiner 1975). In some cases, increases in official
prices induce farmers to sell to government buyers crops that they would otherwise
have consumed, stored, or sold locally-thus creating acute shortages in local mar-
kets or contributing to malnutrition and hunger in rural families (Chauveau et al.
1981; Harriss 1979).
Factors other than crop prices may also affect output or sales of an agricultural
commodity. Changes in weather, access to markets or traders' margins, to say no-
thing of the effects of expectations, may all obscure or offset the effects of price
increases. Statistical estimates often show relatively weak correlations between
price and output. Because a weak relationship may, in principle, be attributed to
the effects of unspecified or unobservable variables, it cannot be said to refute the
strength of price incentives. Hence, whether studies conclude a strong or weak
correlation, these findings are regularly interpreted as supportive of the strength of
price incentives. Like the argument that total agricultural output is declining in
Africa, faith in the universality of positive supply response continues partly be-
cause it cannot be put to a conclusive test.
Studies of price trends in unorganized markets have also produced conflicting
evidence. In reviewing marketing studies by W. O. Jones and others, Barbara
Harriss noted that their evidence on the structure and performance of West African
markets often conflicts with their conclusion that such markets are reasonably com-
petitive (Harriss 1979:210). Historical and ethnographic literature has suggested
that markets worked well in the past not because they were highly competitive, but
because commercial intelligence, brokerage functions, and credit were controlled
by well-organized kinship or community-based networks (Baier 1980; A. Cohen
1969). At present, economists are well aware that much agricultural marketing in
Africa takes place outside official channels. However, there is little understanding
of how unofficial markets work. Harriss concluded: "There is no research to show
whether present stagnation is a result of a high response to low official
prices or a low response to high parallel market prices, or a high response to
parallel market prices that are lower than official prices" (Harriss 1979:375). Gen-
erally, empirical grounds for believing that higher crop prices promote agricultural


development do not seem to warrant the enthusiasm with which the case is often
Finally, it is not very useful to base policy conclusions solely on analyses of
individual farmers' responses to changing economic incentives. Economists' criti-
cisms of African governments for reducing incentives to agricultural producers
often are implicitly comparing the existing situation to one in which state interven-
tion is nonexistent. Economic theory and facts of African political economy
suggest that this comparison is unrealistic. No market system functions in a politi-
cal vacuum; no environment for perfect competition ever survived for long, if at
all. A competitive environment is a hazardous one: Competition not only drives
down prices and profits but impels people to try to protect themselves from its vi-
cissitudes. Competition breeds market controls as well as lower costs, and even
competitive markets seldom remain competitive indefinitely. The choice facing Af-
rican governments is often not one of selecting between controlled prices and com-
petitive prices, but one of choosing to regulate prices themselves or letting other
factors take control.


Understanding the context of resource allocation in African farming systems re-
quires examining the actual organization of agricultural production. African farm-
ers are involved in a great variety of domestic organizations and kin-based farming
units. These defy easy categorization, but clearly are not the self-contained nuclear
household that constitutes the principal unit of production and consumption in
most paradigms of peasant agriculture (see Cohen and McMillan in this volume).
To analyze agricultural performance in Africa, it is necessary to take account of
forms of domestic organization and their influence on farming practices.
In a recent review of Africanist literature on household and lineage, Jane
Guyer questioned the value of typologies of domestic organization in Africa: "The
concept of the lineage and typologies of lineage systems disguise far too much of
the variability in ways things get done: children brought up, livings made, author-
ity achieved and assigned, land distributed, bridewealth paid, residence deter-
mined and all the myriad other activities which can be organized along genealogi-
cal lines" (Guyer 1981:89). Similarly, we gain little understanding of processes of
agrarian change from typologies that try to establish unique correlations between
forms of domestic organization, ecological conditions, cultural systems, and/or
stages of economic development. The prevalence of kinship as an idiom of social
organization in Africa has led to various attempts to specify kin-based paradigms
of agricultural production. For example, matriliny has been associated with hor-
ticulture (Lancaster 1976) and underdevelopment (Goody 1962); hunting and
gathering, with bands, segmentary lineage systems, or male supremacy (Meillas-
soux 1981); low-density farming, with family labor (Lancaster 1979); precapitalist
economies, with a kinship mode of production (Terray 1974); and so forth. Such


typologies rarely withstand comparative analysis nor do they help to explain
Nonetheless, because kinship is a common principle of social organization in
African communities, it is of potential significance for the organization of produc-
tion and investment. If relations of descent, affinity, or coresidence constitute a
basis for making claims on property, commodities, labor, or protection of other
people, then kinship relations and residential patterns are likely to influence the
ways in which productive resources are acquired and used (Hill 1963; S. Berry
The structure of a household may be as important as its landholdings or size
for determining the amount or composition of its output. Husbands and wives
often farm separately; exert different degrees of control over the labor, output, and
consumption of other household members; and participate differentially in extra-
household relations (Guyer 1981). Commercialization or technical change may af-
fect men and women differently, leading to changes in the division of labor within
domestic units or to changes in participation in extra-household transactions or to
both. In such cases, the impact of commercialization on agricultural performance
will not be captured by analyses that treat the household as a monolithic decision-
making unit.
In recognition of this problem, some Francophone ethnographers avoid using
the term "household" altogether, preferring to speak of units of production, con-
sumption, accumulation, and so forth, in order to distinguish both the functions
and the constitutions of each. Such distinctions may be analytically helpful as well
as empirically precise. J. M. Gastellu showed that the spread of cash cropping in
Senegal has not led to marked differentiation among the Serer people, partly be-
cause production and accumulation are carried out by overlapping but not identical
groups of kin (Gastellu 1977). Uterine brothers farm together under the direction
of the eldest, and they, together with their wives and children, constitute a unit of
joint-income management for purposes of consumption. Once consumption needs
of the group have been met, individuals remit surplus income to groups of their
own matrikin for joint investment in livestock. Wives and husbands belong to the
same unit of consumption but to different units of accumulation. Thus, elder men
who control the process of agricultural production are prevented from monopoliz-
ing the resulting surplus and using it to amass property on their own account.
In some extended families, accumulation is not only permitted but encour-
aged. Serakule kinsmen in Gambia pool their savings to purchase heavy agricul-
tural equipment from the state, and they have recently begun to grow rice on large,
mechanized, and irrigated farms worked by labor mobilized within corporate kin
groups of up to one hundred or more persons (Watts 1983: personal communica-
tion). In contrast, efforts by well-placed officials to launch large-scale mechanized
rice cultivation in northern Ghana-using state subsidized machinery and inputs,
hired labor, and questionable manipulations of local land-tenure practices-have
proved ecologically destructive, socially disruptive, and often commercially unvi-
able (Shepherd 1981; Johnny et al. 1981). African agricultural performance is not


shaped by the pervasiveness of kinship, as a principle of African social organiza-
tion, but by the way in which specifically constituted forms of domestic organiza-
tion interact with changing economic, technical, and political opportunities and
The importance of understanding domestic relations in the context of farmers'
linkages to the wider political economy is not simply a matter of historical accu-
racy. Maintaining ties with kin groups or communities of origin is important
throughout contemporary Africa-not only for people legally barred from settling
in urban, industrial centers, as in South Africa, or for those paid so little they are
forced to cling to declining rural economies and anachronistic structures in order to
subsist, but also for those with surplus income who wish to invest it in valuable
assets and/or power and prestige. To the extent that Africans' access to property,
labor, patronage, or the resources of the state depend on membership in a descent
group or community of birth, it is understandable that Africans of all socioeco-
nomic levels invest in maintaining or enhancing their own standings in such groups
(see Cohen in this volume).
In some areas, the development of commercial farming is directly associated
with a rising incidence of polygyny and level of bridewealth payments (Cheater
1981). The Ghanaian officials and mechanized rice farmers mentioned previously
were not strangers to the local community when they defrauded other local farmers
of their ancient land rights. These officials were often local sons who used their
memberships in local lineages to gain virtually unlimited access to local land. This
is not an isolated example (Berry 1985). Elites as well as peasants often spend time
and money cultivatinghome-based ties, in part because property rights, credit, and
political mobilization are mediated through these ties. Commercialization, techni-
cal change, and the emergence of independent national governments affect rela-
tions among rural families, the division of labor within farming households, and
patterns of productive activities; in fact they affect the entire structure of rural


In contrast to studies that identify patterns of agricultural performance based on
the behavior of individual farmers, a substantial literature on agrarian change in
Africa explains both farmers' behavior and agricultural performance in terms of
the structure or dynamics, or both, of rural economy and society. Discussion cen-
ters on the degree to which agricultural commercialization, technical change, or
the agricultural policies of colonial and postcolonial regimes affects patterns of
inequality or the form and intensity of social cleavages and conflict.
Some studies suggest that the impact of commercialization and centralized
governments on African rural economies has been relatively superficial. Hyden
argued that "African peasants are less integrated in the cash economy than peasants
elsewhere" (1980:10), and that peasant households, though not entirely self-


sufficient, manage resources independently of one another and enjoy considerable
autonomy with respect to outside institutions such as the market and the state. "Af-
rican rulers have been unable to make the peasants effectively dependent on their
policy measures" (Hyden 1980:33); indeed, bureaucratic interference often drives
farmers to take refuge in parallel markets or virtual self-sufficiency. Hyden's views
are shared by a number of people concerned with Africa's food deficits who argue,
contrary to the World Bank's interpretation, that food crop production in Africa is
relatively unresponsive to market forces. The U.S. Department of Agriculture
(USDA) states baldly that, for most African farmers, "the reason for growing ex-
port crops is to sell them, while the reason for growing food crops is to eat them"
(USDA 1981:25). This position is challenged by researchers who point out that the
need for cash to pay taxes, purchase medical and educational services, and acquire
many household necessities forces even very poor families to sell a good part of
their agricultural output and to buy part of the staple food they consume (Cowen
Most social scientists agree that the expansion of capitalist enterprise and na-
tional governments has affected profoundly the structure of rural society and its
relation to wider economic and political systems, but disagree over the nature of
these effects. Scholars argue that commercialization and government intervention:
(1) transformed large areas of rural Africa into labor reserves; (2) turned African
cultivators into peasants, who control their own means of production but depend
on externally controlled markets and agencies for the returns to their productive
efforts; or (3) created class divisions in rural Africa similar to those in other
capitalist societies. A brief review of each of these arguments follows.
The labor reserve argument is based on the historical fact that both private
firms and colonial regimes needed a steady supply of cheap labor. To provide it,
colonial administrations frequently demanded that Africans pay taxes in cash, and
simultaneously restricted Africans' access to land or other sources of independent
income to compel them to seek wage employment. Farmers in West African
societies that were already involved in commercial relations with Europeans
through the slave trade were often able to supply European merchants with cheap
agricultural commodities. Export crop growers hired migrant workers from poorer
or more remote areas to work on their farms. Thus, many rural areas became labor
reserves for capitalist-dominated sectors (Arrighi 1970; Amin 1974a).
The extent to which labor migration impoverished rural communities is a sub-
ject of long-standing debate. Argument revolves around several interrelated ques-
tions: (1)Was production lost or maintained because withdrawal of migrant work-
ers' labor power from the community was compensated by the self-exploitation of
their relatives who stayed at home? (Berg 1965; Amin 1974a); (2) Did migrants'
remittances to their communities represent a net inflow of purchasing power to
their home areas or were remittances more than offset by reverse flows of
foodstuffs, school fees, and so forth? (Essang and Mabawonku 1974; Parkin 1979;
Amin 1974a); and (3) What was happening to the structure of rural economies?
Some have suggested that because African peasants were not dispossessed,


migrant workers' families continued to feed themselves and sometimes the mi-
grants as well, enabling capitalist firms to pay lower wages and increase their prof-
its (Wolpe 1972; Meillassoux 1981). In this way, colonial capitalism tended to fos-
silize rather than destroy traditional economies, creating a semiproletarianized
working class whose continued ties to the land promoted self-exploitation and de-
pendence rather than peasant autonomy. The homelands of South Africa are some-
times cited as an extreme example. Although South African whites have clearly
profited handsomely from cheap black labor, the homelands' dependence on remit-
tances of workers to cover basic consumption requirements may act as a drain on
the national economy's investable surplus rather than as a source of additional na-
tional wealth (Simkins 1981; Knight and Lenta 1980). By the 1970s, the im-
poverishment of the homelands was so acute that migrant workers' subsistence
needs were far from being met, in spite of workers' rights to land there.
Although the effects of the labor reserve system have been overwhelmingly
negative in South Africa, other labor-exporting areas have not fared as badly. In
parts of postcolonial Kenya, workers' remittances help to finance purchases of
rural land and increase peasant production for the market (Collier and Lal 1980;
Stichter 1982). In parts of Kenya and Uganda, migrants straddle the boundary be-
tween rural and urban sectors with considerable success, sometimes establishing
two households so that individuals may circulate between urban and rural areas,
practicing forms of gainful employment in both (Parkin 1979; Richards et al.
1973). Circulatory migration and occupational diversification are also common in
western and southern Africa (Mayer 1980; Colvin 1981; Amin 1974a), and mi-
grants often invest part of their earnings in livestock or other rural assets (Delgado
1978; Norman et al. 1981). Migrant labor contributes to rural differentiation as
well (Mayer 1980; Collier and Lal 1980). Such evidence casts doubt on the signifi-
cance of rural-urban boundaries as primary divisions of economic specialization
or socioeconomic differentiation. In short, the argument that commercialization,
or capitalist penetration, or both, transformed rural communities into labor re-
serves is only part of the story.
Cheap labor was not the only resource sought by Europeans from their African
colonies. In some areas, increased agricultural production for the market was con-
doned or encouraged, by both colonial and postcolonial regimes, in order to pro-
vide export earnings or cheap foodstuffs in the local economy. Aided by rising
world market prices for agricultural commodities, the early 1950s saw a re-
surgence of peasant production for the market, both in older areas of cash-crop
production and in areas where peasantization was discouraged before the war. At
various times, the growth of commercial opportunities created conditions for the
emergence of a class of local accumulators in African agriculture and a corres-
ponding demand for hired labor (Hill 1963; Lawson 1972; Kitching 1980). The
degree to which these tendencies resulted in the division of rural society into
capitalist farmers and landless workers depended, in part, on the role played by the
state in abetting or undermining the emergence of an African bourgeoisie.
Although colonial regimes acted at times to protect the profits of European


capitalists in trade, mining, industry, and agriculture, they were not invariably hos-
tile to African accumulators. For colonial regimes whose tax base depended, at
least in part, on the prosperity of African farmers and traders, the rise of an indige-
nous bourgeoisie was not an unmitigated disaster however much it might have
been opposed by European farmers and traders faced with African competitors.
And although prosperous Africans confronted their colonial rulers with a political
threat-wealthy Africans might have the means to challenge the power of the colo-
nial state-these Africans could often be induced to collaborate instead. By the
late colonial period, administrators were increasingly conscious of the role a class
of prosperous peasants, or "progressive farmers," might play in containing or de-
fusing rural discontent, producing agricultural commodities for both domestic and
foreign markets, and generating revenue for the state. Colonial policy toward Afri-
can agriculture is better understood as a relentless struggle to cope with the con-
tradictory implications of peasant accumulation and impoverishment than as a
simple extension of the cheap labor policies of European settlers and industrialists
(Lonsdale and Berman 1979; Berman and Lonsdale 1980).
Postcolonial governments vacillate between extracting surpluses from farm-
ers and subsidizing them. Marketing boards are both convenient and costly as in-
struments for mobilizing agricultural surplus. Overly aggressive pricing policies
often lead farmers to cut back production of export or other officially marketed
crops, seek refuge in parallel markets, or engage in political protest; thus, pur-
chases often decline (Beer and Williams 1975; Beckman 1978; Lamb 1974). Afri-
can governments frequently attempt to exploit local accumulators and to coopt
them by nationalizing lucrative enterprises or by using official prerogatives to gain
preferential access to land, capital, or market opportunities. Postcolonial govern-
ments of varying ideological persuasions demonstrate a common penchant for
state farms, parastatal enterprises, and joint government-private ventures in large-
scale farming. Governments often provide generous loans, subsidies, infrastruc-
ture, and technical assistance to a small number of large private farms (Heyer et al.
1981; Asante in this volume). Such policies reflect officials' pursuits of private
gain and states' desires to nationalize key productive activities in order to manage
more effectively the process of economic development. Such intervention often
serves to promote rural differentiation, but not necessarily in the form of an emerg-
ing rural bourgeoisie and proletariat.
Today, as in the colonial period, rich farmers are often clients or members of
the state and they receive access to credit, inputs, extension services, and market
opportunities on much more favorable terms than do the majority of farmers. This
is not the whole story, however. Prosperous farmers may invest outside of agricul-
ture, seek to commute their wealth into direct political power, or do both. In the
process, they may be absorbed into the national elite or come into conflict with
other elite factions over access to power and the management of the economy. Con-
flict between white farmers and industrialists over access to black labor was a sig-
nificant aspect of South African politics in the 1930s (Morris 1976), and the
Convention People's Party in Ghana went to considerable lengths and expense to


neutralize the power of indigenous capitalists, both inside and outside of the cocoa-
growing sector (Beckman 1978). Elsewhere, rural profits have been invested in
trade, education, and even manufacturing, creating a class of indigenous ac-
cumulators that cuts across rural-urban boundaries and often across the public and
private sectors as well (Berry 1985; Kitching 1980). In some cases, relations be-
tween the government and a particular rural elite have changed over time, as with
the Mourides in Senegal whose ability to deliver the votes of their rural followers
earned them substantial profits as well as power in the 1950s, but whose power
waned as Senghor's party consolidated its control of the state (Cruise O'Brien
1970). In short, "coping with the contradictions" and "crises of accumulation" are
problems not only for colonial states, but for postcolonial regimes as well
(Lonsdale and Berman 1979; Berman and Lonsdale 1980).


Social science perspectives on food in Africa are varied, to say the least. This diver-
sity can be productive. Although this review of the literature does not indicate a
consensus, it does suggest directions for further study. It is increasingly evident
that food deficits and agricultural performance in Africa spring from many causes
including international economic and political processes, national politics, pat-
terns of government expenditure, legal and judicial systems, local institutions and
social relations, technical possibilities, and methods of cultivation. The multitude
of causes suggests to policymakers that it is probably not very useful to assess in
isolation the impact of any specific interventions-price controls, input subsidies,
dissemination of improved techniques, land reform, etc.-without considering
that any intervention affects many variables, and, in turn, many variables also in-
fluence the impact. It is necessary to try to understand how national, international,
and local processes interact to shape conditions and patterns of agricultural pro-
duction and distribution in Africa. It is also important to confront the diversity of
African farming systems and rural economies and to develop explanatory
frameworks that help to account for this diversity rather than to try to reduce Afri-
can agricultural processes to a series of universally applicable propositions about
human behavior or social structures. To capture the realities of African agricultural
practices and policy options, such frameworks should consider conditions of ac-
cess to productive resources and economic opportunities, as well as how resources
are allocated among alternative uses. These frameworks should also seek to
analyze, not castigate, the ways in which the acquisition and exercise of power-at
all levels of social interaction-influence economic performance, and vice versa.



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