Back to the land - new hope for civil servants and graduates
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CTA. 1990. Back to the land - new hope for civil servants and graduates. Spore 28. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/45312
Young jobless graduates and the unemployed are starting up small farms in great numbers. Their educational background stands the former in good stead. They have the will to earn a good living, and so they breathe new life and inspiration into the...
Young jobless graduates and the unemployed are starting up small farms in great numbers. Their educational background stands the former in good stead. They have the will to earn a good living, and so they breathe new life and inspiration into the rural environment. The term 'peasant class' has given way to 'farming profession'. Back to the land! Agriculture needs new blood!' was the appeal of the Cameroonian Head of State at the beginning of this year. Many rural areas have been left to the women and the old men and are lacking in manpower, their active population long gone. For 30 years or so the exodus to the towns has been draining off all those who aspire to a better life-style and the consumer society. But the big towns, where unemployment and economic misery are rampant, have lost their appeal. Being a civil servant is no longer a sinecure, and salaries, when they appear, are inadequate. The civil services of most African countries are no longer recruiting, and more and more graduates find themselves jobless. This educated unemployed class is pined by untrained young people who have little chance of finding work. So attitudes are changing. Interest in the land is reviving, since there at least the workers can usually get enough to eat. Governments are realizing that they cannot guarantee jobs for graduates and the incentive to return to the land is growing. For several years civil servants have been investing in agriculture. This is the first step towards formal recognition of this sector of production. Some have set up poultry farms on the edges of cities or have taken up land in irrigated areas. At the Office du Niger in Mali, or at Semery in North Cameroon, many civil servants make up the shortfall in their incomes by working the land. There are many instances: for example, a male nurse in Ouahigouya (Burkina Faso) goes off before his shift every morning, at lunch-times and in the evenings to tend his market garden plot which is watered by a motor-pump he bought himself. He sells the bulk of his potatoes to a restaurant of which he is a shareholder, and the rest is sent to market. The postman in Leo, 150 km from Ouagadougou, has started pig farming, and has set up an association locally which will benefit from technical support services and bank credit. They have an intensive, up-to-date unit which allows them virtually no free time. Making ends meet Not everyone seeks to farm on a commercial scale, but most want to cultivate a field or two in the village in order to meet their family's needs. Sometimes government support is forthcoming. In Cameroon, Saturday morning work has been abolished so that people can go back to their villages on Friday evenings to tend their plots. Town dwellers are being positively encouraged to return home. The lack of man-power in some rural areas has in many places reached crisis level. In Mauritania there has been a 'back to the land' campaign since 1983, and 700,000-800,000 farmers and growers are able to go back to their fields as soon as the rainy season arrives. They are taken in lorries, and waiting for them there are the necessary seeds, provisions and equipment. These temporary or 'halfway' returns to the land are only the first cautious steps, which solve the most urgent problems of the town dwellers and at the same time prevent the total abandonment of regions deserted by their labour forces. But this does not yet add up to a reversal of the trend. A job which pays For a long time now agriculture has been considered good only for the most deprived sectors of the population, and has not been the prime area of employment for the majority. Karounga Keita is a pioneer, one of the very first civil servants in Bamako to set up his own smallholding. From 1966 he planted bananas, mangoes and citrus fruit over more than ten hectares some 20 km from the Mali capital. Now he rears cows as well and sells 60 litres of milk a day. He is a civil engineer and now enjoys considerable and enviable financial security. It is examples like his which, together with the economic crisis, are slowly changing the image of the farmer. He is no longer avoided because he is thought 'backward' or 'ignorant'. Town dwellers now consider farming to be a real job, as valuable and lucrative as any other. Some people do end up leaving town life completely in order to return to their roots to set up smallholdings. Sometimes it is the lesser of two evils, as this investigator with a development company can testify: 'After 14 months without pay I was laid off. But I'm not trained for anything else, so I'm going back to my village'. Most of these 'neo-peasants' are recent victims of the crisis that has been shaking Africa for ten years or so. Some plunge in on their own as is the case of this 24-year-old livestock officer who graduated from the University of Havana in Cuba 'When I finished my degree I was unemployed for two years. Thanks to my uncle I was able to put three hectares under cultivation. I wanted to grow rice and to do a bit of market gardening. The vegetables did well because the farm was by a river, but the rice wasn't a success. Individual smallholders find it hard to get the loans of equipment which are usually made to groups or cooperatives. The prohibitive cost of seed, treatments and machinery, and the way the larger landowners stick together would deter all but the most stubborn. I didn't give up and things have been better in the last year'. Even with sufficient capital to get started there is no guarantee of success. Mamadou Mangara, also from Mali, just managed to avoid disaster. He is an historian by training and intended to go into teaching. But he was forced to swap blackboard and chalk for a hoe. In 1986 with five million francs CFA credit from the Banque Nationale pour le Developpement Agricole, he started by growing bananas. His inexperience in the beginning led him into debt and he only just managed to escape ban kruptcy thanks to his family. Today he is producing 2.5t of bananas a year, and his income is the envy of local government officials. But not everybody has been so lucky. For each success there are many failures. Without training, experience or support man' abandon their schemes very early on. On. does not become a farmer overnight. Government incentives Nowadays governments are offering incentives, especially to the young, to encourage and support the return to the lane Senegal made the availability of credit to se up agricultural smallholdings a matter a priority. In 1984,15 graduates became market gardeners and now have 200 ha of irrigated land under cultivation. They gave their organization the name GIPES (Groupement d'lnteret economique des Producteurs et Exportateurs de Senegal/Producers and exporters of Senegal Financial Interest Group), and today it exports vegetables (green beans, melons and tomatoes) to Europe and supplies a local market wit cabbages, onions, peppers and potatoes. The Mali government also offers this kin of credit facility and access to land ownership. In Selinque, in southern Mali the government has allocated 100 ha of irrigated land to a group of about a hundred agricultural college leavers. These young people are financed by the European Development Fund, and have concentrated on intensive rice-growing. They each receive a subsistence handout of 300 FF per month while they wait for their first harvest. In the off-season they will grow gherkins and other vegetables for which they already have a market. In the Congo, where a large section of the population lives in towns, 'agriculture has been declared a top priority', explains Gabriel Oba-Apounou, the Minister for Youth and Rural Development. Government officials are actively encouraged to go back into agriculture which so desperately needs manpower, as are the young unemployed or those who have yet to find a first job. With government help, the first Congolese NGO, the Organisation Nationale des Volontaires du Developpement (ONVD) has set up a centre for training and support services for the 400 young people who want to go into agriculture. There they will receive a three-year practical and theoretical training on agronomy, livestock, management and accountancy as applicable to a smallholding. The course is complemented by practical work in rural areas and official agricultural schemes. The first students will graduate this year and they will receive assistance to set up cooperatives and smallholdings. Young people in Cote d'lvoire are directed towards intensive food crop production. Once trained, they grow rice, maize and soya on government land. All these measures affect only a small proportion of those in need and concentrate on city dwellers. Schools, which for so long have devalued the importance of rural activities, can play an important part in preventing a new exodus of young people from the countryside. These days, as well as learning the three Rs, young people are taught farming skills; how to plant and maintain an orchard or cultivate a vegetable garden. The income from this is used to help the schools, while at the same time the children are learning the basics of a job which is of some real interest to them. When they leave school they are more easily persuaded to stay in the area. In Cote d'lvoire some schools teach young people how to manage a fish farm, and in the Central African Republic primary school pupils have become beekeepers. A new type of farmer Today, subsistence agriculture holds no interest for young people wanting to work on the land, nor do graduates have any intention of following their parents into poverty. They want consumer goods, and for this they need a salary. They therefore attempt to grow crops that pay well, or try new ones such as bananas (currently very successful in Burkina Faso) or melons. Marketing holds the key to their success. The new farmers, especially those with higher education, have far more opportunities to understand the market and see opportunities better than traditional farmers. They know the traders or can use their influence, of ten taking with them neighbouring farmers. Thomas Melone returned to Mali from France where he was a university teacher. Since 1983 he has been trying to breathe some life into the region where he lives. 'Our first concern was to increase the capital agricultural value of the land in order to have something of greater value to market. The emphasis is on export crops such as yams, okra and peppers,', explains this academic-turned farmer. The market gardeners in the region where the Senegalese 'intellectuals' of the GIPES group are teased are now working under contract to them. The Group provides them with seeds, crop treatments etc. and buys their crops. These they can sell on more advantageous terms than could be achieved by individual market gardeners who had previously had no choice but to accept the traders' conditions. An economic climate which favours and facilitates trade, and which maintains prices at a level which actually pays the producers, is another major factor which encourages a return to the land. Farmers will then also be more inclined to adopt new techniques and use up-to-date products. Once they can be sure of a market they will use improved seed, fertilizers and proven crop protection measures. They also find it easier to draw up proper credit requests. These requests are then more likely to be approved than those of the more traditional farmers. Thus their plant will be modern al appropriate. In Guinea-Bissau the 'ponteiros', former top officials who have returned to the land, have set up large-scale concerns with tractors and mechanized, pumps for irrigation, to the envy of the oldstyle farmers who did not have such advantages. The policy of favouring the old at the pense of the new is bound to cause friction. However, each group has need of the other: the experience of the traditional peasant can prevent the newcomers from making mistakes, and the new ideas brought in the neo-peasants will speed up the process of agricultural modernization. All this is not some nostalgic longing I days long past. The numbers returning the land are skill low but it is early days yet What is significant is the change in attitudes rather than the numbers involved. Working the land was once considered a degrading occupation by town dwellers, but now it is seen as having dignity and value. The new farming generation is creating agricultural practices which are both viable a valuable.