Title Page
 The intellectual factor
 External factors
 Internal factors

Title: Sustainable agriculture in Africa
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00075664/00001
 Material Information
Title: Sustainable agriculture in Africa social-cultural, political and economic considerations
Series Title: Sustainable agriculture in Africa
Alternate Title: Sustainable agriculture an overview from underground
Physical Description: 40 leaves : ; 22 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Cohen, Ronald
Publication Date: 1990
Subject: Sustainable agriculture -- Economic aspects -- Africa   ( lcsh )
Sustainable agriculture -- Social aspects -- Africa   ( lcsh )
Agriculture and state -- Africa   ( lcsh )
Genre: non-fiction   ( marcgt )
Bibliography: Includes bibliographic references (leaves 38-40)
Statement of Responsibility: by Ronald Cohen.
General Note: "A symposium sponsored by the Center for African Studies, the Ohio State University, May 25-26, 1990, plenary address by Ronald Cohen, University of Florida."
General Note: Cover title.
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00075664
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: oclc - 82969805

Table of Contents
    Title Page
        Title Page
        Page 1
    The intellectual factor
        Page 2
        Page 3
        Page 4
        Page 5
        Page 6
    External factors
        Page 7
        Page 8
        Page 9
        Page 10
        Page 11
        Page 12
        Page 13
        Page 14
        Page 15
    Internal factors
        Page 16
        Page 17
        Page 18
        Page 19
        Page 20
        Page 21
        Page 22
        Page 23
        Page 24
        Page 25
        Page 26
        Page 27
        Page 28
        Page 29
        Page 30
        Page 31
        Page 32
        Page 33
        Page 34
        Page 35
        Page 36
        Page 37
        Page 38
        Page 39
        Page 40
Full Text




A Syaposium sponsored by the Center for African Studies

The Ohio State University

nay 25-26, 1990



Ronald Cohen

University of Florida


In the past two decades food security and rural development have

emerged as one of the primary issues in African development.

Although food production has started to rise in the 1980s, it is

still falling far short of per capital requirements. The problem

although enormously complex is simply stated. It involves the

continuing capacity of a population to supply its food needs using

the most efficient sources and distribution that enable it to

sustain the caloric requirements of its members. This does not

necessarily mean food self-sufficiency. That notion is itself not

sustainable given the unpredictable and changing food tastes of a

population, along with varying capacities to use the comparative

advantages of non-agricultural sectors to pay for food needs. In

other words, the problem as defined here involves an eclectic view

of development. There is no need to think about the problem solely

in terms of home production, although that is presently the most

important domain in terms of hoped-for improvement. Economic

nationalism in a shrinking world is an outdated concept, although

this does not mean that Africa can avoid the obligation to upgrade

its farm production to levels of output comparable to the more

developed regions of the world.

I have broken the problem down into several related domains. These

are, first, the intellectual resources, secondly external factors,

and thirdly and the internal relations that bear on the problem. I

shall summarize their major features in order to see whether an

overview can in fact provide some new lessons from past mistakes

and point to both research and policy directives in the immediate



Problems do not exist outside our conception of them. There is no

AIDs problem without a highly evolved theory of virus biomasL

ecology relating unseen entities whose posited existence produces a

breakdown in the human immunological system resulting from the

successful adaptation of the AIDs virus to its primate hosts. So

too with Africa's food security. In this instance there are highly

developed concepts and theories that relate causes to effects and

either suggest or imply answers to our question. Indeed many, some

would say most, of the actual constraints, standing in the way of

a sustainable and highly productive agriculture are well-known.

Unfortunately there is no clear agreement as to how these factors

should be integrated into a theory that weights each factor and

relationship accurately in a particular region while satisfactorily

explaining why the problem is so intractable, or what can be done

to improve things. This is not meant to imply there are no answers.

Quite the reverse. Even though I risk breaking humane society rules

by being cruel to sophisticated theories, in my view there are too

many of them, all partial, all claiming plausible adequacy, and all

arguably inadequate in their capacity to assure a solution should

they be adopted, or found to be so when used as guides in the real


Intellectual constraints occur because scholars use .Fnslhl.e

theories to trumpet explanations and implied solutions to rural

development problems. But we do not know enough, nor are we likely

to, about the socio-cultural, economic, and political components of

the problem in general, and the applicability of specific solutions

in particular contexts. I have written about this elsewhere (Cohen

1990) and can only briefly summarize the argument here. In effect

the human condition is only partially amenable to general

scientific theories because much of the refined determination of

outcomes is the result of specific historical and contextual

factors that vary across situations while science seeks

situationally neutral predictions. Added to this are the errors

built into positivist social science which result from the values

and assumptions of theorists and researchers whose questions and

answers are programmed by their personal biases and the

attractiveness of their unproven assumptions. Often these

distortions come from training, or fads and fashions that censor

career opportunities creating the now well-known periodicity to

theoretical approaches. And so modernization theory was to save

Africa by taxing agriculture to build an urban industrial base.

Dependency ideas preached a doctrine of freeing Africa from the

stranglehold of capitalist core domination which was peasantizing

the African farmer in a world economy. Opposing this the African

farmer has been theorized as not dependent, but injuriously

independent, living in a semi-connected economy of affection into

which he and she can exit at will. Concentrating on the African

smallholder and constraining differentiation would increase

production and make African development equitable thereby avoiding

the evils of impoverishment inherent in capitalist penetration into

rural life. .In my own work I have tried to show that the very

opposite position that of fostering differentiation will lead to

more sustainable agriculture. And now a new set of ideas is coming

on stream. Ones that find the state to be the root problem and

suggest that incorporation into a state that works provides for

increased absorptive capacity of aid and the implementation of

development policies. And cutting across all of these quite

contradictory ideas the ubiquity of women as major labor sources on

the continent has produced a growing literature on how to make

agriculture more sustainable by admitting gender as a factor and

fostering increased aid to women farmers as well as their male

counterparts. I could go on, but this litany of pendulum swings in

social science beliefs is sufficient to illustrate the point.

In any event, theories are always partial and puny guides to

policy. They are in effect extensions of western social theory to

the third world conditioned by continuing field research and

current events whose unfolding dramatize their errors and

stimulate escape reactions, often to polar opposite positions. And

their assumptions are configured from value positions such as the

benefits of capital formation, rational choice maximization, or its

opposite in the moral economy, or the draconian evils of inequity

and the glories of social justice, or the importance of female

emancipation for development, or the bottom up vs the the top down

form of participation in projects or vice versa, and on and on

through a myriad of unspoken, unproven, always laudable but never

clearly demonstrated causes of betterment.

For me the lesson is clear. To be effective we must combine and

utilize the methods and clearly replicable generalizations of

social science with a long term commitment to the continent or

even a sub-area within Africa. These two approaches, social science

and a continuing contact with the details of an area provide the

means to put theoretical arguments into their proper perspective.

Theories call for the relationship of variables. But variables are

by their very nature abstractions whose entitivity has been

unavoidably distorted by excising them from contexts through

conceptual definitions that perforce simplify in order to create

understandable generalizations. Only by long term commitment to a

particular place and the rich experience of real world events in

that area can we correct for the built-in error that separates

situationally neutral generalizations from applicability. This

epistemological limitation to a science of human activity means

that place specialists must always compare theory and its

predictions to a deep understanding and long term exposure to real

world cause effect relationships, often hardly conscious, in a

familiar area. What this does is to provide the area specialist

with an automatic censor, often sub-liminal until challenged by

inapplicable generalizations, that critically examines well-

intentioned but sublimely naive theories which self-confidently

suggest how Africa's peoples should be manipulated to foster hoped-

for improvements. More importantly, it also means that much of the

capacity for new ideas comes from long term real world

commitment. I would go further and suggest that for social

science, theory driven research produces sustained trends and

fashions reflecting paradigmatic commitment determining arrays of

questions and domains from which answers should derive. This means

that new questions, and new domains for finding answers are what

ultimately destroy paradigms (Lakatos 1970). Dependency: notions

pointed questions at ways in which outside influences affected

African development. Conversely, affective economy assumptions have

made researchers ask questions about the degree of engagement with

and incorporation into the State, assuming that Africans have an

exit option and that State power is limited. Only the area

specialist is close enough and sufficiently aware .of real world

problems and complexities to realize when and why old theories are

wrong. And it is for this reason that so many. new ideas and

theories emerge from area studies. Events' and trends Lhrust new

questions onto center stage, pointing at new domains to be observed

and included as sources for determinants. Area studies therefore

provides the corrective basis to paradigmatic distortions by

forcing us to create new theory from actual conditions as these


Meanwhile, the failure of so many theories in so short a period has

a lesson for us all.' As one African author (Ijere 1983) has

suggested, the stakes are too high to trust any one set of ideas or

solutions. It is mandatory to be experimental and learn what works,

how it works, and under what particular conditions. To do

otherwise, to ask of African leaders to do otherwise, is to

shoulder the blame, which we intellectuals seem so far quite adroit

at avoiding, for the failures that follow. This does not mean that

I or any of us should not be fully aware that one of the greatest

impacts we outsiders have had so far on Africa since independence

has been the export of our theories which were often absorbed as

policy even though they were and are extraordinarily

underdeveloped. There is little doubt for example that Walter

Rodney's (1969) book on 'underdevelopment' said to be the most

widely read textbook in English-speaking Africa has influenced

several generations of African policy makers. In this sense we are

all to some extent responsible for what has happened.

Foreign Trade

Having proposed the caveat that theory can only provide broad

frameworks---partial answers---when applied to a particular place,

we must still start with some generalizations within which to look

at sustainable agriculture. They are time b-ed and there are

errors and exceptions. Nevertheless together, the dependency

theorists and the neo-classical macro-economists have sensitized us

to conditions outside the continent that restrict and facilitate

its ability to achieve food security.

In terms of caloric energy spent producing goods, African peoples

are presently concentrated in the agricultural sector. And yet the

purchasing power of their agricultural exports is both unstable and

losing value in relation to the things they require from outside to

expand production in both agriculture and other sectors. African

terms of trade have in general been negative since 1978, as have

been the balance of payments (Lewis 1986). What Africans do most

continues to be worth less on world markets. This is compensated

for in some places by minerals and tourism but not sufficiently to

make a great deal of difference to the continent as a whole.

Hopefully centers of manufacturing in east and west Africa in

addition to the south will emerge and become integrated nodes of

economic activity, but that is decades away.

From a dependency point of view the terms of trade imbalance is a

blessing in disguise since it frees the African farmer from

producing cash crops for export theorized to replace subsistence

food needs. Unfortunately it has been shown that this is a complex

matter depending on factors of land, labor, and price. In some land

scarce places cash exports crops have supplanted foods,as the

theory suggests, while in others cash cropping has increased

acreage under cultivation making household farms more productive

(see Tiffen I (7 ). And in places where the crop is often very

lucrative as with cocoa it can provide buying power well beyond

food needs. Even more fine grained research in the sahel indicates

that most smallholders (except the wealthier ones) plant household

food crops before cash export crops (Balcet and Candler 1981).

The main point is, however, quite clear. If Africa is to become

food secure, some stabilization or even subsidization of world

market prices for African products may be required as incentives to

its farmers. In 1988/9 Nigerian cocoa sold at farmgate for as much

as N25000 (US$3200) a tonne. But it went down as low as one third

to one tenth of this during the same season. Farmers are now

shifting to other things as prices remain unstable and production

costs rise (West Africa 21-27 May 1990). Although this may sound

like a call for international income redistribution, it is

important to note that it is inducements to maintain, expand, and

intensify production being advocated not simple charity. The world

is now too small for the well-to-do nations to sit by and watch

famine take its toll. The last two decades have indicated that it

is not whether Africa will be fed, but who will feed it that is at

issue. Without some international effort to stimulate African

agriculture, we on the outside may get saddled with sudden, large,

often tragically ineffective and unpredictable relief episodes that

are more costly in the long run. Although this runs counter to the

rationality of neo-classical economic propositions, it is at least

a testable hypothesis. The question is simple and empirical. What

are the comparative costs and benefits to the wealthy nations using

data from 1960 to the present of stabilizing African agricultural

export prices and the concomitant growth in agriculture that would

have occurred compared to moneys spent, losses incurred on debts

and the human and material costs of rushing in to stem famines.

Very possibly a world commitment to Africa's agricultural growth

and sustainability on a continuing basis through price incentives

is less costly and more rational than crisis management, and

callousness at more normal times. If farm subsidies and fertilizer

subsidization make sense within nation state economies, why not an

international experiment to rationalize price incentives for the

poorest nations? At least, why not some research, or pilot programs

that might teach us to avoid or adopt this idea?

One of the most overly simplfied and injurious notions of

dependency theory was the idea that foreign investments exploit

and impoverish third world countries. We now know what was long

suspected. Dependency ideas have some validity for large scaled

business operations. At least some foreign managers resident in

Africa conspire to get round local indigenization regulations, and

other restrictions on the repatriation of profits (Bierstecker

1988). On the other hand at the most general level using nation

state economies as units, the correlation between local economic

growth and welfare in the third world on the one hand, and foreign

investments on the other, is based on very hard data (Lal 1983).

Backing away from foreign investors does make a country more

autonomous, it also makes it poorer. Nigeria is an interesting

example. It encourages private investment, and recently promised

greater profit repatriation if companies channel profits through

reinvestment in commercial farm developments in unused lands. This

has expanded agricultural production, and utilizes the profits of

foreign investors to create, infrastructure, high tech agricultural

employment, and increases the GDP. There is no reason that Africa's

cotton should not support a large textile industry. Nigeria is on

the way with its large mills in Kaduna owned partly by a parastatal

and partly by a number of different Asian and European private

investors who train management personnel in the home country. Other

countries like Chad, Tanzania, and Sudan with good cotton crops

will, hopefully, fulluw. Nigeria's plan to ban raw cocoa bean

exports starting in 1991, allowing out only processed liquid, cocoa

butter, and cocoa cake is a step in the right direction. Similarly,

there is no reason why tariff pressures and positive profit

incentives on some products, for example electronics, bicycles,

farm machinery, and food processing should not expand in order to

encourage African-based manufactures. This will provide the jobs

and market required for a commercial farm sector and runaway urban


Given the positive effects of foreign investment and loan aid,

Africa has' special problems. It is now known that productivity

increase per capital inflow is not as attractive as for other

continents. Foreign investors and aid agencies in Africa must

expend as much as twice the resources to achieve the same increase

in local incomes as occurs in Asia and Latin America (Lewis

1986:479). Without asking exactly what is involved, development

economists are now tescucitating a 1950s idea about African

economies having very low levels of "absorptive capacity" Eicher

(1986:263) for example notes that without more absorptive capacity

it is probably wise to slow down the pumping of donor aid into

agriculture on the continent rather than continue to tolerate lower

standards of performance compared with other third world regions.

The problem is even more serious from the point of view of

sustainability, when it is realized that donor aid has become part

of recurrent costs in development planning and budgetting. The

equitable outcomes ideology that has stimulated donors to pour

increasing aid investments into helping the poorest of the poor in

rural areas "has been a major mistake because: it artificially

elevates the number of projects beyond the ability of African

states to manage them and it makes it difficult, if not impossible,

to achieve donor coordination, it takes pressure off African states

to mobilize rural resources to pay for water supplies, agricultural

extension agents and health services, and it promotes a delusional

system of shadow government agencies, offices, titles, and local

perquisites that can never be financed by domestic resources after

foreign aid is phased out." (Eicher 1986:265).

And a further constraint has evolved out of the entailment of this

higgly-piggly system. As with many social systems aid and

investment packages tend to develop their own momentum. It is

generally easier to get help for new projects or older ones with

new names especially if this support falls within current

ideological goals .of donors and the vast network of foreign aid

specialists now grown up to spend the investment funds. And without

serious and careful critiques and evaluations, the momentum

produces serious gaps. For example, the scientific talent available

in Africa in 1980 was one quarter that of Asia in 1970, (~8hpo

.995. In response the World Bank apportioned under 4% of its

worldwide education projects to Africa in the 1980s. But this was

down from nearly 11% in the 1960s (World Bank 1984). In 1985 USAID

supported 650 projects in agricultural science education in 38

countries, only three of these in Africa (Lele 1986 ). Tanzania's

efforts to set up a special agricultural university, and that of

Cameroon are important exceptions. In Africa itself recent research

(Ajuji and Cohen 1992) indicates that the older colonial bias for

liberal arts and humanities against science and technology is still

a strong part of University cultures and attractive career

opportunities. Given the severity of the long term problems in

Africa this lack of foreign investment in human capital necessary

to support research and development in agriculture along with

institution development to change attitudes towards science and

technology seems extraordinarily shortsighted.

Finally, there are extremely important events and pressures outside

Africa that bear on its capacity to reach sustainable levels of

food security. The debt crisis, and the pressure from IMF for

currency reform has produced widespread reactions that vary from

recession and inflation to political instability, and a widespread

move to privatize much of the economic activity that had under

previous development beliefs and practices become government run.

The failure of socialist economies in Eastern Europe and the

enthusiastic move to pluralist democracy will undoubtedly drain off

foreign aid investment and create similar pressures for more

representative and multiparty regimes.

A final point is important. Donor fatigue now characterizes many

outside attitudes to African problems (Lofchie 1988). There is a

growing perception already noted that African aid and private

investments have relatively low returns in both welfare and payback

compared to other areas, especially Asia. Thus a recent US

government attempt to get investment moving by setting up an

African Growth Fund of $30 million, plus investment guarantee

programs stimulated by the World Bank have met with little response

from the business community. Indeed there is evidence of a pullout.

In South Africa 210 US firms have now sold and left. In Kenya over

a dozen US businesses, including large firms like Pepsico,

Firestone, Union Carbide, and First National Bank of Chicago have

also left. With the exception of Kenya Africa is no longer a

destination for US air carriers. Mining and manufacturing

investments have slowed to a trickle mainly because of foreign

exchange problems, corruption, and enormous red tape along with

delays and restrictions of profit remittances. Both volunteer and

government aid and relief agencies have been disturbed and angered

over aid packages and crisis relief materials not reaching target

populations. And Africa's debts are becoming a bottomless pit now

totalling almost as much as its total annual GDP with debt

servicing equal to half its export earnings (Hall 1991:193-196)

This may have positive as well as negative results. The get tough

policies of the international banking community and now the cold

shoulder being shown by the business investors have shown that

African States can weather a period of retrenchment. Some

recessionary adjustments may be necessary for the economies to

start serious competition for foreign investment in terms of labor,

tax breaks, profit repatriation, and a climate that attracts

capital rather than viewing interdependence as a faustian bargain.

All of these external forces have both positive and negative

effects on African food security. Some international cooperation to

stabilize markets seems a better idea than letting African

agriculture sink or swim when it is hardly able to float, in terms

of commercialization and competition for foreign earnings. Some

better understanding of foreign investment and aid returns is

required. Having been involved in in only a small portion of such

evaluation, it is clear to me that better work is required.

Certainly a deeper understanding of absorptive capacity is

required, and a shift towards creating more agricultural expertise

geared to local problems. The pressures for different emphases from

donor fatigue and the debt crisis are interacting with internal

forces of change in both positive and negative ways. Let's look at

a few of these.



It really doesn't matter how much effort goes into the attempt to

create a sustainable and growing, even accelerating, capacity for

food security if population growth continually outstrips food

production. And this is the case for Africa. Now in the first phase

of its demographic transition the continent has characteristically

witnessed a steady rise in growth rates---2% in 1950, to a an

average of 3.2% in the 1980s and '90s. This peak exceeds all

previously recorded growth rates. Latin America, for example peaked

in the early 1960s at 2.9% (World Bank 1989). Indeed no matter what

else happens, there will most likely be one billion Africans by the

year 2000, and double that in another quarter century. As expected

in the first phase, infant mortality has fallen from 200 per 1000

(1950s) to about 100 per 1000 today, and life expectancy has gone

up from 40 to 50 years. Given the the bulge in early years within

population structure (45-48% under age 15 compared to 35% in other

third world regions) growth cannot be slowed down quickly.

Africa's 'population momentum' runs at about 2.0 which means that

even if population growth were to immediately drop to replacement

rate and remain there, the current population would double before

stabilizing. Of course, such a drastic decline is most improbable

(Cohen and Goldman:in press). Only if all adult women stop giving

birth immediately, and all young women coming on stream produce

less than 2.1 (=replacement level) live births instead of the 5 to

8 per woman they are now producing, only then can the population

explosion be snuffed out. In other words the momentum of population

growth will take 15 to 20 years of concerted and successful birth

control to even start the slowing down process. If African food

production is to remain simply at its present unsatisfactory level,

never mind achieving a sustainable level of food security, it must

double its productive output within twenty five years or less. It

is not impossible, but it is certainly difficult to imagine food

security for Africa, if population expansion continues running at

its present rate of growth---and out of control.

Meanwhile family planning services have not been very successful

(Iverson 1990). Kenya's family planning program is over 20 years

old but the country now has one of the world's highest recorded

population growth rates (4%). In some areas experience has shown

that availability of contraception simply replaces older forms of

birth spacing while having little or no effect on limiting the

number of births. Indeed, in Natal an intensive campaign has helped

rural incomes, with no effect on birth rates, through the marketing

of subsidized condoms and fees paid for sterilization of what

turned out to be very old people from farm households (personal

communication from Himalayan Studies Centre, Katmandu). The main

point is well-known. As long as rural smallholders can utilize

children as farm labor, and household size is a predictor of crop

size, along with the value of children for old age security and

personal status then the benefits of increasing numbers of births

per woman outrun the costs. Birth control programs are therefore

necessary but.not sufficient conditions for population problems.

The correlative demographic feature is urbanization. For general

planning purposes an urbanization growth rate of 5% to 6% or

roughly double the overall population increase is the rule of thumb

for the continent. Thus while the population doubles every 25-30

years, the cities do so every 12-15 years. By the year 2000 Africa

will be over 30% urbanized and climbing. As a result, agriculture's

share of the labor force is declining. This means vastly more food

surpluses beyond burgeoning household needs at an increasing rate

of demand; and/or the urban workers will have to produce.sufficient

products and services to help pay for the growing gap (no pun

intended) with imported foodstuffs. I am aware that for now under

the structural readjustments many urban dwellers have taken up

farming, some always did have farms, many others do not farm.

Whether this is a short term or more durable reaction is unclear.

Sustainable agriculture means not just building in an accelerating

productivity to catch up to population growth, but an even greater

performance to support a shrinking agricultural sector.

That's the bad news. The good news is that this state of affairs

can't go on. The second phase of the demographic transition

featuring a decline in growth rates has occurred elsewhere in the

third world (with the exception of the Islamic nations of the

Middle East) as a function of urbanization, economic development,

education, improved health and declining infant mortality along

with correlative shifts in the cost and benefits of having

children. What has worked, reportedly, in Africa is the combination

of education and formal employment for women. Results of a

longitudinal study (TIPPS Project 1988) in Zimbabwe (1984-88)

indicate that women with secondary school education who are also

employed (81% in clerical, 19% professional-technical-managerial,

N=1183) have more than one less child by age 29, over two less by

39. and 3.5 less by age 49, or 3.38 compared to an average

fertility rate of 6.52 for the entire female population.(1)

This still leaves the bulk of the population out of phase to

transition. As already noted, subsidizing family planning

instrumentalities is a dubious policy. On the other hand,

subsidizing performance is a possibility. It has worked to some

extent in Asia, and should at least be tried in Africa with tax

punishments for large families (measured in births per woman) and

blandishments for smaller ones. Faking, and the possibility of

cruel administration have occurred in both India and China, but the

exact effect of such a program on the continent is not yet known.

I will return to this point later, but for now, it is important to

note that population growth is a serious constraint to food

security. The conditions for demographic transition are present but

only for phase one increases. Importantly, women's exit from farm

work into the urban style job market is a better predictor of

population control than urbanization or family planning programs on

their own.

Physical Conditions

Vast areas of Africa are semi-arid, subject to drought, and heavy

leaching. Over-use combined with poorly adapted husbandry for such

intensification in land scarce areds is raising a spectre of

environmental degradation. Fertilizers and some form of water

control are necessary to sustain food security, If we add crop

diseases, pest control, HYVs, and above all, roads, international

records rank Africa at the bottom for all of these supports. Thus

the continent has a small fraction of the road density per square

kilometer that India had at the time of its 'green revolution'. In

the accelerated IRD efforts in Nigeria that I observed in the mid

1980s, the roads program was the first to be dropped once it was

realized that if continued it would eat up all or more of the funds

available. Although irrigation capacity is lowest in Africa for the

world as a whole, there has been a sharp rise in this capacity in

the 1980s which, clearly will continue into the 1990s and beyond.

Crop diseases, HYVs, pest control and fertilizers are a function of

distribution which I will mention in a moment. It is simply my

attempt at being exhaustive that leads me to mention these

constraints. They are widely understood. But it is supply and

delivery that seems to be more inhibiting, along with costs for the

all-important roads barrier.

Land access is a thorny issue. Although there is in absolute terms

sufficient arable to take care of even the most most draconian

notions of population increase, much of it is in the wrong place

McMillan (1987). In effect, the pessimistic view that warns of

increasing land scarcity has some validity for many sections of the

continent, especially in the vicinity of the large urban markets,

and the highly dense rural areas of central and east Africa, as

well as southeast Nigeria. Two remedies are being .applied,

intensification and resettlement'; Intensification in the areas near

urban markets is going on and spreading outwards along main roads.

Resettlement is going on everywhere. In Zimbabwe onto reclaimed

settler land, in West Africa onto newly available lands cleared of

onchosariasis, and in East Africa onto marginal lands. We do not

know enough about such programs, for example the relation between

more and less centralized planning versus sponteneity of

resettlement, but the general point seems to be optimistic (Pozarny

1991). The results so far indicate more income per farm family, and

more crops for sale to the urban markets, held back in both cases

by shortfalls in infrastructure especially marketing and roads


Land availability is also tied to the development of a land

market. Traditionally, and still operative to a large degree the

general rule for the continent is the age-old one that any member

of a rural community has a right to unused village land which then

then becomes household-family property over time. Once this occurs

the land is not for most places considered part of 'communal land'.

Depending upon local customs it can be inherited, sold, pledged

(=shared), rented, and fragmented unless it is abandoned whereupon

it re-enters the public domain. The local leadership acts most

often as a registry office searching land titles and publically

witnessing (i.e. registering) transfers either from public holdings

or from one group or individual to another. In some areas certain

kinds of land cannot or should not be alienated, in others this is

not the case. If local authority is used to increase the use of

empty land, it helps expand agricultural production with or without

new technology. Problems emerge because of family members legally

registering land individually with the State (Kenya), or selling

off land, or local leaders using their registry-like functions to

broker or sell unused land to absentee -non-community members. At

worst this includes the siezure of lands already under cultivation

and its reallocation or in effect its illegal sale to an absentee

owner who then acquires private property or 'occupancy rights'

under the law (e.g. Nigeria, and Burundi). In a number of places,

conflicts between graziers and farmers over land use is now

reaching serious levels. This is especially true for example in

Cameroon where food crop farmers, mostly women are in conflict with

graziers, mostly men, over crop destruction and pasturage rights

(Harshbarger 1990).

In some of the literature (see Watts 1983) there is the inference

that land scarce areas are producing a landless peasantry,

impoverished into becoming the urban poor or rural hired laborers.

Although pockets of such outcomes occur near major cities, and some

of the most densely settled hinterlands, a general trend is not

apparent. Farmers have always been diversified and thus non-farming

occupations are normal making fragmentation elastic in income

terms. Migration to the city, to open less land scarce areas, or

purchase and rental of land plus off-farm income generation make

for many options besides the worst case scenario that requires that

we look for the impoverishment augured ominously by the more

pessimistic theorists. Land shortages lead to fragmentation, land

markets, migration, and soil degradation. All of these are

occurring, but new lands are also opening up. It is unclear yet

what the various patterns will be a we move into the next century.

The pessimistic view is one of landlessness, and conflict over land

reform. The optimistic view is one of unused land brought under

cultivation, and eventually for a few places to develop into

intensive 'bread basket' areas whose comparative advantage will

support local growth while more urban developments occur elsewhere

using Africa's cheap labor to produce manufactures fur both home

and abroad. This does not mean every State must go through the same

process. Regional free trade areas based on economic rationality

are just as essential for Africa as elsewhere. Clearly, the ECOWAS

idea will expand and diffuse.(3) This means my prediction for

the future is that of differentiation and local specialization to

which I must now turn.


The search for equitable social welfare that blithely assumes

increased production wrapped into a unimodal package of rural

development designed to constrain farmer differentiation is an

uphill battle steadily losing ground against the facts. The

misguided proponents of this view hope against hope that increased

production and productivity per smallholder farm will resolve the

food supply problem and raise standards of living among Africa's

poorest peoples all at once, even stimulating manufactures by

expanding demand for urban products through increased rural

incomes. Or so goes the argument. If the hundreds of millions of

African farmers could raise production only a few per cent per year

(to take care of their own needs and those of the burgeoning non-

farm population) and somehow sustain that pace of growth, then with

decent farmgate prices Africa would arise out of poverty and hunger

to sustained growth---in all sectors!

Unfortunately the real world of African agriculture is a tougher

less amenable, and more intractable set of constraints than this

decent and humane theory provides for. Constraining differentiation

is a chimera. Helping the poorest of the poor will most likely miss

the mark, and none of these untoward remedies ensures or enhances

Africa's chances of sustaining food security.

Research indicates what many old hard-hat Africanists knew all

along. The differentiation process is older than the colonial

intrusion, it took special form during colonialism, and most

importantly, it is now being accelerated and deepened by rural

development projects often designed to do exactly the opposite

(Cohen 1988). Trying to constrain the inevitable is both

disheartening and wasteful. There were always factors affecting

rural success, diversifying economic activities, and making for

personal and household rather than communal welfare. In many areas,

men were much more active in farming than they are today. Women's

importance in food cropping was widened and strengthened by men's

migratory patterns. These began during colonial times, and have for

the most part continued. (E.g. in the 1950s rural southeast Nigeria

had 20% more adult women than men.) On the other hand, in

Boserupian fashion lucrative cash cropping, mechanization, and

large commercial farming attract men to either go back into farming

or if they are rural to take over its income producing features

leaving household food production to women (as in Cameroon).

The most important feature in this equation is the much replicated

finding that the vast majority of equitably oriented rural aid,

including inputs, extension services, credits, and correspondingly

increased productivity per farm unit is absorbed by a small portion

of the rural population (Cohen 1988). There is no way, one must

repeat this--no way that attempts to increase production equitably

among the smallholder population can overcome differences among

them. Farm units vary in terms of a host of socio-economic factors

including household size, access to cash from off-farm work, the

use of hired labor, and indigenous credit networks, geographic-

locational factors of soil,.access to organic fertilizers, markets,

and roads, political relations of the farm unit to distributive

authorities, gender differences among household heads, and farming

skills to mention the most often recorded factors. These qualities

or clusters of them determine that a minority of farm households in

strategic positions utilize the bulk of rural development programs

by applying their, advantages to enhance and accelerate theix better

off position. Rural development programs accelerate rural

differentiation whether this is a goal of the program or the very

antithesis of the goal. In effect this means that throughout the

continent a minority of farm households provide the bulk of food

sales for the urban markets and those rural households that are not

self-sufficienL (Cohen 1988). Where measurements have been taken,

those farmers who are smallest, most distant from roads and

markets, also know the least about prices, sell the least amount of

their crops, and benefit least from rural development/ projects

(Usoro 1976). As an African rural development officer said to me,

'You expatriates have confused us! Rural social welfare and

increased food production are ~bth important, but they are


Can government correct for this bias? Can we outsiders legislate

more equity, more aid to women farmers, more help for the poorest

of the poor? Can we in effect constrain differentiation, for that

is what many have advocated, what many of our theories imply. But

this requires honest and dedicated officials, it requires effective

control over the rural population through honest and efficient

administration and local authority. Clearly the farmers have some

exit options (Hyden 1980). But even more importantly for this

discussion, the officials with discriminatory capabilities who make

allocative decisions are so widely dedicated to marketing their

decisions for personal or group advantage that corruption is a

universal factor of production. The features that sustain

corruption---very low detection and punishments, high profits, high

demand and scarce resources, along with a bureaucratic culture that

replaces regulatory activity with free market principles of

allocation are endemic and extremely widespread throughout the

continent. -If we add these features to the shortage of skilled

personnel, it becomes clear that programs aimed at enhancing rural

welfare and production are bound to systems of administration that

sustain the acceleraLed differentiation of rural populations. This

is, part at least of the problem of 'absorptive capacity'. African

administrative structures and economies are not neatly tied into

and incorporated into a world economic system. Implementation of

projects and programs must move downwards through a system that

redirects resources at best or simply wastes them through corrupted

'rents' extracted by those charged wiLhi their administration. Any

form of redress or grievance articulation by those at the bottom

cannot easily be heard or treated with unless the State and the

private sector are more clearly absorbed into a working legal

system and a more accountable and honest bureaucracy.

There are exceptions and they should be more closely studied.

Resettlement in Zimbabwe and the use of women extension agents in

the indigenous women-headed household areas seems to be working

successfully. Although much of our information on this score comes

from government sources rather than independent researchers.

Similarly, resettlement schemes in Borkina Fasa and in Togo are

also working to combine increased social welfare and increased

production. Rising food prices in Cameroon have provided women

farmers who do most of the domestic food production with more

income. However, the situation is so recent that it is difficult to

tell whether the lucrative farming will remain under women's

control. These same women are forcing government to become more

effective by taking male graziers to court because indigenous

dispute settlements and local bureaucrats favor the men

(Harshbarger 1990). And smallholders in Burundi have activated

cooperatives to protect themselves against land grabs by the 'Big

Men' while in the process enhancing their technical capacities and

production itself (Wayman 1989).(2)

But these are exceptions not the rule. As urban food prices have

increased enormously throughout Africa during the 1980s commercial

farming has become an ever more feasible and attractive investment

target. Urban bureaucrats, professionals, and businessmen are using

contacts back in the rural areas, government policies, and money to

set up larger farm enterprises generally linked by transportation

to the urban markets. Wherever possible they use their influence to

take advantage of development programs. Although this is part fad,

part land speculation in which land is not used for crops, it is

also a growing part of the value added to crop production, cattle

and small animal husbandry, and the utilization of modern

technology to intensify production. It needs much closer study

throughout the continent as part of Africa's agricultural

transformation. Whether we like it, agree with it, or want it to

atrophy in favor of the smallholder, given sustained urban markets,

the profits to be obtained, and other attractions of diversifying

into commercial farming, this development is one of the significant

new sources for sustaining Africa's food security.

A final word before I sum up, about women in agriculture. It is now

widely accepted that a major portion of food production is in the

hands of women. Even where they do little or no field work they are

still active in harvesting-threshing and food processing. This has

stimulated a tendency for theorists and those concerned with the

feminist agenda to argue for increased aid to women farmers. The

idea seems both just and plausible. However, it tends to overlook

several important points. First, as already noted, increased income

from higher prices, and intensification are locked into the

declining participation of women in farming. (see Gladwin and

McMillan 1989). In Zimbabwe it is officially mandated that men stop

off-farm work in the relocated areas and take over the farm. (Real

.world practice may however turn out to be different). Secondly, in

a number of places, women are anxious to leave farming, if they can

be assured of better conditions in off-farm occupations. And

thirdly, as already noted, population control is correlated with

women exiting the rural areas, obtaining education and formal

sector employment. What this argument implies is that food security

associated with agricultural transformation and decreased

population growth rates requires increased educational

opportunities for women especially in the rural areas, for the

continuation of rural-urban migration above and beyond that of

normal population increase which opens the doors however to both

sexes to prosper from urban jobs for family farms in which

successful households are encouraged to develop larger commercial

farm units, and for the expansion of urban sector jobs particularly

those open to women as well as men. The women in development

movement needs to reorient its focus in line with differentiation

on the farm, and policies that will help to lower birth rates.

Focusing on women in agriculture means trying to restrain

historical forces that are not easily controlled or fully

understood, and aiding women in agriculture does nothing to help

the profuse and dangerous population explosion.


This essay assumes that sustainable agriculture in Africa is

technically feasible. The other papers presented at the conference,

and many publications in the field attest to the validity of this

proposition. Given accelerated additions to water and soil

conservation, added inputs to increase and intensify productivity

per hectare, some intermediate increases in mechanization, seed

multiplication of HYVs, plus increased extension services, credits,

and access to markets through better prices and the all-important

extension of roads to get farm products out and information into

the farms, then rapid advances in food and other agricultural

products will follow. Indeed, advances are being made already

across a broad spectrum of these facilitating featur-es, and

research devoted to enhancing technological capacities is a

continuing necessity.. Steady advance is always a problem. Soil

degradation, falling water tables, forest denudation and

desertification, some land scarcity especially where population is

heaviest are real threats to increased levels of production. But

the effectiveness and widespread commitment to technical

improvements and their steady diffusion to the African farmer is

now part of the development culture of the continent.

The gaps and constraints that slow down this process lie primarily

in the social, economic, and political realms. Grafting the

technically feasible to successful implementation is the nub of the

problem. The paper summarizes three domains related to the search

for a sustainable agriculture---intellectual shortfalls, external

factors, and internal features within African societies.

At the intellectual level there has been an over-committment to

paradigmatic thinking. A belief that somehow if we come up with the

right mix of relationships among determinants, that then ipso facto

the forging of desirable futures---the right policies if you like--

-will follow as natural fallouts from our intellectual resources.

This is a chimera. For well-documented reasons social science is

unable to theorize in sufficiently accurate non-situational terms

to guide the specifics of policy in a particular context. The

attempts to do so have been failures. What is needed is a mix of

general theoretical knowledge from a number of disciplines blended

with the scouring anditerative assessment of theoretical

propositions by a deep personal knowledge of a particular place,

its history, environments, peoples, events, in experiential,

holistic terms as a counterweight to the errors of abstraction

required by scientific logics. This caveat covers all of the other

factors and the results of any implementations we argue for. There

is no substitute for area expertise by both Africans and those

outside the continent who wish to be heard and to use- their

knowledge and prejudices to campaign for particular solutions.

In the external environment, prices for African agricultural

exports has been declining steadily turning the terms of trade

against African countries that require such earnings for debt

servicing and to finance even lowered levels of imports under

structural adjustment programs. It is at least a researchable

question as to whether some international price stabilization in

Africa's favor is not less expensive in long run periods than the

crisis management of famine relief that accompanies their economic

decline and lack of sufficient sustainability to overcome the

inevitable droughts plaguing large sections of the continent.

Outside investment from donors has to be more systematically

evaluated rather than being subject to its own momentum as income

and careers to foreign experts and part of national recurrent

budgetting strategies. Sustainability means that projects must

outlive donor aid programs which is not always the case. Private

investment in African industry will fuel the capacity to raise

domestic food prices and provide for the expanding urban sector.

The non-governmental training and infrastructure additions are

needed to prime private sector economic growth. Thus African

countries must. rethink their climate for foreign investment and

experiment with ways and means of attracting rather then suspecting

outside help that is willing to share and reinvest profits from its

contribution to, and involvement in, Africa's development. In an

unequal world zenopohobia is adaptive for the poor and the weak,

but this means hard bargaining. In an interdependent world

isolation avoids exploitation; it also perpetuates the status quo.

Internally, besides physical conditions, population growth is

Africa's nemesis. Having gone into the first, expansionist phase of

demographic transition Africa is now facing a growth of mouths to

feed that outstrips its agricultural growth. And to make matters

worse as differentiation and urbanization expand the proportion of

labor in agriculture is declining leaving the job to a shrinking

farm sector.

Differentiation is a fundamental issue. Whether it should be

constrained or utilized is an assumption and a value position that

affects almost everything said about development. From a

perspective that emphasizes equitable outcomes differentiation is a

constraint that must be controlled in order to achieve social

justice and the welfare of the rural population. The position taken

here is that this is a futile effort. The differentiation process

is a built-in quality to all societal evolution, including African,

before, during, and after colonial rule. The serious shortage of

roads and the capacity of a minority of smallholders to take

advantage of the growth of commercial agriculture plus the recent

attraction into larger scaled farms by urban middle and upper

income groups means that it is impossible to hinder this

differentiation. Furthermore, this group more than any other holds

the key to producing more intensively, and commercially for both

urban markets and export. To even consider regulatory or coercive

measures to enforce greater equity flies in the face of "soft"

African governments that are not efficiently engaged and

incorporated into rural life. Or if they are, have an

uncontrollable tendency to administer corruptly in response to

market forces rather than to regulations. Thus, even with the best

intentions differentiation is winning out in the countryside as

agriculture moves to greater productivity, better prices, and

growing urban markets.

If sustainable agriculture is tied to increased social and

economic differentiation, this leaves the problem of social

justice, and increased welfare unresolved. Clearly programs aimed

at distributing aid packages more widely in rural areas must be

continually worked on, along with roads development, in order to

reach more of the rural poor. Amenities like schools,

electrification, extension services, subsidized inputs, and tractor

rentals, credits, and so on will further differentiate but help

spread the benefits as well. They will also encourage urbanward

migration, and help women to gain access to the hopefully expanding

formal job market which is presently the most effective way of

decreasing the birth rate. This population program can be aided and

abetted by family planning programs and subsidies for smaller


Above all, sustainability requires that governments be committed to

finding ways to reach these goals, and both researchers and donors

be open to finding and testing solutions. In the end, Africans will

solve their problems in their own ways, using their own traditions,

and experiences, successes and failures. If we try to help within

this framework, rather than imposing solutions from elsewhere, the

years ahead will be better.


(1) These data on Zimbabwe fertility are from an unpublished paper

by S. Iverson (1990) who has completed pilot work on demographic

transition in Zimbabwe under the direction of H.R. Bernard at

University of Florida. The Natal communication was provided by the

senior personnel of the Himalayan Research Centre in 1988 when I

visited Katmandu under contract to USAID to help in the planning of

an evaluation of USAID training programs in the third world.

(2) The work cited here by Pozarny (1991) and Harshberger (1990) is

still in progress. Both researchers have conducted pilot studies

and are about to undertake doctoral research on these problems.

Wayman's (1989) work is based on several years of field work as a

project manager in the area.

(3) In his presentation, All Mazrui was right to criticize East

Africa for giving up its union early on after independence of its

three members. But as he also pointed out political careers were at

stake. In the 1990s economic viability and the international

climate are in favor of such wider unions or loose free trade zones

leading to closer associations.


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