'Grey' must come before 'green' in the farming revolution
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Sene, Djibril. 1992. 'Grey' must come before 'green' in the farming revolution. Spore 37. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/45675
Mr Djibril Sene, formerly Minister of Agriculture and of Research in Senegal, is currently President of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the Senegalese parliament. He plays a major part on the international stage in agricultural policy formulation....
Mr Djibril Sene, formerly Minister of Agriculture and of Research in Senegal, is currently President of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the Senegalese parliament. He plays a major part on the international stage in agricultural policy formulation. We are throwing the baby out with the bathwater! Extension services which are the main link between research and the peasant farmer are under threat from swingeing cut-backs in national public service budgets. The 'Northern' countries and Asia have both witnessed spectacular advances in their agricultural development in their own, but very different, ways and time-scales. In each case the agricultural revolution went hand in hand with a significant improvement in the level of education of farmers. As a result, crop yields in those parts of the world have increased to the extent that famine is a thing of the past, and the markets are swamped with surpluses. This is due not only to improved techniques but also to the increased managerial and organizational skills of the farmers themselves. Not that increased agricultural production in the industrialized nations necessarily results in happiness for farmers; it is well known that agriculture there is in a state of crisis and that many farmers are being driven to bankruptcy. But even if Europe is now questioning its pattern of development, what cannot be seriously challenged is the crucial role played by information at every stage of the agricultural development process. The 'grey' revolution (that of mind and attitude), which happens only if ideas and technical knowledge can circulate freely, must go hand in hand with the 'green'. Access to scientific, technical and financial information is a fundamental prerequisite for progress. In the 1960s and, to a lesser extent, in the 1970s many African countries invested heavily in the training of field extension officers. These people formed the channel through which information flowed from the laboratory to the farm. Through them the on-going training of farmers facilitated the spread and use of what is nowadays known as STI (scientific and technical information). This was only possible when farmers had direct access to information sources through these officers. Despite the progress made at that time, sub-Saharan Africa still lags a long way behind in agricultural production and rural development. Rural development can be defined as the efficient and sustainable use of agricultural land; training and the professional, social and cultural education of the farmers. It is of necessity a long term task, whose ultimate objective is increased agricultural production. In Africa, however, opposing trends prevent this. The increase in population growth rates is the largest in the world and brings with it rapid urbanization, draining the most dynamic and productive people away from the countryside only to stagnate in shanty towns on the periphery of the cities, looking for non-existent employment. The result of this is that the desired increase in agricultural production, especially of food crops, relies on a work force of rapidly diminishing size and motivation. The challenge can be met only by policies which bring about training and largescale advances in the use of technical skills. Unfortunately, the policies of structural adjustment, which various African states are forced to adopt, have sounded the death knell for the training of personnel who had real links with the farmer. These state cut-backs are having a disastrous effect on agricultural extension services and this in turn has a knock on effect, hitting farming hard. Public service cuts do not just get rid of the dead wood, they destroy the very fabric of the system and the adjustments which will have to be made as a result of these drastic cuts will take time. As a result, we have to think of new forms of education and training which rely more on audio-visual methods of disseminating agricultural STI. The current educational level of the small farmer is such that any agricultural information intended for his use must be within his scope, so that he can understand it and benefit from it. If information is going to be put across in simple language, there is a need for people who are themselves close to the land and who can assimilate the material and communicate it in ways appropriate to the farmers. These rural communicators must have been trained in audio-visual techniques and must be able to access the information, which must be gathered and stored accessibly in well-equipped national agricultural documentation centres, which are themselves linked to regional or international centres. The link between peasant farmers and research institutes will have to be forged anew, and we have yet to think of different ways of doing this. The practical difficulties will have to be addressed realistically. We must come up with a strategy which helps the rural producer in his village to obtain access to information and to interpret it so that he himself becomes an agent of progress towards food security to which we must all aspire. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of CTA.