Farmer's organizations are capable of managing their affairs
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Belloncle, Guy. 1992. Farmer's organizations are capable of managing their affairs . Spore 41. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
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Guy Belloncle is Professor of Sociology at the University of Tours in France. He is consultant sociologist to many development projects, both governmental and non-governmental, which promote farmers organizations. After the failure of many...
Guy Belloncle is Professor of Sociology at the University of Tours in France. He is consultant sociologist to many development projects, both governmental and non-governmental, which promote farmers organizations. After the failure of many state-controlled cooperatives during the 1970s, the 1980s saw thousands of associations and village groups of all kinds spring into being, mainly on the initiative of local leaders (the educated unemployed or former public servants) but with significant financial backing from northern NGOs. Many believed that where state-run organizations had failed, these new organizations would succeed in getting the economy on its feet again. But all too soon there was a chorus of condemnation against corruption and apathy, and this could soon have turned into a death knell for these organizations. In issue 10 of 'La lettre du reseau GAO' (Groups, Village Associations and Farmers Organizations), J P Prodhomme asks with concern: 'What would be the alternative if failure were inevitable?' This is a crisis which now demands immediate action. Farmers organizations must become fully autonomous enterprises with strict accounting systems and must aim to achieve a dual capitalization - financial and intellectual, each supporting the other. The absence of coherent accounting systems is all too obvious: most organizations do not even have a simple ledger. It is a common problem, but one which always receives the same explanation: accountancy is not possible because the people are illiterate. This simply is not true any more. African villages which do not have a core of educated young people are rare these days. They have either been to school, or have learned from state or privately-run native language literacy campaigns, or possibly from Koranic schools where children are taught to write their native language using Arabic script. Contrary to the usual prejudice, Africa is more likely soon to be over-literate than illiterate if one judges by the skills used by those who have mastered writing a language, whatever it may be. I have recently seen proof of this in the Central African Republic. In order to make them self-sufficient, the National Pastoralism Development Project has for five years attempted to bring literacy to the leaders of the cattle owner groups. But the pastoralists of Mbororo of Central Africa are far from illiterate. This is one of the areas where the Fulfude language, written in Arabic characters, is particularly widespread. Two weeks were therefore long enough to train the first team of managers; one week for them to learn how to make the change from the Arabic to the Latin alphabet, and one week to train the staff who would be in charge of the sales and credit ledgers and the files for the stocks of medicines. The staff who would deal with the cash side (cash books, occasional stock-taking, accounts three times a year done by histograms - stock, cash and credit sales, so that everyone can come and check out the 'wealth' of the group) required similar training. It cannot be said strongly enough: illiteracy as a bar to strict accounting practice is just an excuse which no-one should believe any more, especially the donor NGOs. So the problem must lie elsewhere. It has to do with the total lack of accountancy training among the promoters (native or foreign) of the current peasant groups, and so these never address the subject for fear of showing up their own ignorance. There is another cause - the inability of peasant leaders to follow through what is in effect a real cultural revolution which means the separation of the property of the enterprise (however much that is village-led) from the village itself. - It is now a matter of urgency to find accountants with sufficient flexibility of thought and practice to create 'customized' accountancy systems for each situation. - It is now a matter of urgency to promote the most expert peasant accountants into auditors to check village accounts. - It is now a matter of urgency for the NGOs to understand that their apathy is frankly criminal since it leads to a superfluity of money fouling up village systems rather than helping maximize profits in order to reinvest. I shall never forget the remark of one farmer 'wariyesitane', which being translated means 'Money is the very devil'. More of Guy Belloncle's thoughts on the subject can be found in his book Applied anthropology and development associations in Sahelian Africa 1960-1990, available from the College coopératif, 1 rue du 11 november, 92120 Montrouge, FRANCE The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of CTA.
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