African farmers and the world market
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Giri, Jacques. 1990. African farmers and the world market. Spore 28. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
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Jacques Giri Is the author of L'Afrique en panne (Africa at breaking point) and Le Sahel au XXIème siècle (the Sahel in the 21st century) and the founder of SEED - a development strategies consultancy - and is also consultant to the Club du Sahel....
Jacques Giri is the author of L'Afrique en panne (Africa at breaking point) and Le Sahel au XXIème siècle (the Sahel in the 21st century) and the founder of SEED - a development strategies consultancy - and is also consultant to the Club du Sahel. If African-grown rice were cheaper than rice imported from Asia, then the large Irrigated rice-growing areas might be more successful. The same applies to the Improved development of profitable market-gardening. It is not the skill of the farmers that needs to be improved, but market conditions. If I look back at irrigated farming practices in the Sahel during the 1980s, I see two outcomes. Firstly, the failure of the large projects which were financed by aid agencies. Vast sums were spent on developing river basins and on creating and improving irrigated areas mainly for rice-growing. The governments of the Sahelian states, in an attempt to reach self-sufficiency in food, had been pressing for such schemes. But the opposite happened. A decade ago the Sahel was producing about 50% of the rice it needed; now the figure stands at less than 30%. Secondly, there has been a simultaneous proliferation of small-scale irrigated areas, run on market gardening principles by peasant farmers and town-dwellers who have returned to the land. These people have invested their savings in their rice farms and have built them up on a shoestring budget. They have flourished, creating a landscape of vitality and hope, in spite of limited external assistance So on the one hand we have complex but ineffective schemes dreamed up and put into operation with considerable effort by experts of some experience, and on the other we have self-help initiatives, often lacking in know-how, but which frequently succeed. Why is this? The answer seems obvious to me. Dietary fashions change, and city-dwellers, for example, eat more vegetables than they once did. The demand for market-garden produce has increased and astute businessmen have sought to exploit the trend. They face little competition because geography is on their side: courgettes and beans from southern Europe would be far too expensive to be sold on the Bamako or Niamey markets. Rice production too was able to benefit from a change in dietary habits, since both town and country people are eating more rice and less of the traditional sorghum and millet. But rice-growers are less fortunate than those who produce vegetables as rice travels well and cheaply. Thai rice arrives in Niger costing less than the home-grown variety. African governments do not have the option open to developed countries of subsidizing farmers by taxing industrialists, nor can they impose prohibitive import taxes on rice since some less scrupulous neighbouring country might let it in and then re-export it on the black market. As a result, small-scale farmers produce rice for their own needs, send a little to the towns, and then perhaps allow some to be marketed elsewhere as long as the price is right and they actually receive hard cash. But they feel no incentive to put rice on a market where they have no chance of being competitive. And so rice imports grow and self-sufficiency declines. It is really not a fair comparison between vegetables and rice, as people will always eat far more rice than tomatoes, radishes and carrots. As a result of growing trade deficits, aid is now being poured in urgently to bridge the gaps in the budgets of African countries, instead of being used to help Africa invest in her future. What chance development? It is fashionable to go on about international markets and to deplore the fact that Thailand grows rice and Malaysia produces cocoa at less cost than Africa, but this is just unhelpful repetition. The plain fact is that Africa is no longer geared to a world market. She has become marginalized in world trade and is increasingly an importing continent. There can be only one answer to this permanent block to development, and that is to adopt exchange parity. Changing the exchange rates is not some magic solution, because only this step can push Africa into development. Not only should rice be dearer, but so also should petrol, foreign cars, foreign travel etc. The interaction between social groups will also have to undergo a major modification. Is Africa ready for alI this? Are there any indicators to show that things are happening? If there are, then there is some hope that the continent might come through the current crisis and head for real development. If not, then there is little that can be done. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of CTA.
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