Still going strong at 40
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CTA. 2003. Still going strong at 40. Spore 105. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
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Tidiani Diarra talked to Spore s Eyoum Ngangué about the metamorphosis of Malian farmers organisations.
Tidiani Diarra talked to Spore s Eyoum Ngangué about the metamorphosis of Malian farmers organisations. In less than half a century, they have evolved from a passive statal model to the dynamic bodies that have emerged since the withdrawal of the State. And he explains why farmers still need the State to play its part, if they are to improve their productivity and meet the needs of the market. What s the state of play with farmers organisations in Mali? Ever since independence, successive governments have sought to organise the rural community, given its demographic weight (80% of the population). We first saw, from 1960 to 1968, a period of socialist policy with a centralising State: it was the State which pushed the setting up of cooperatives and farmer groups, without farmers having any real wish for this. The limits of this planned approach were soon to be seen. Then from 1968 to 1978, the military regime saw the need to strengthen the farmer groups and set up Rural Development Operations (ODR). Local people were urged to form village associations. They were a sort of pre-cooperative, with no real legal status, deemed to evolve into a cooperative model. Then from 1979 to 1991, the return to civilian rule with the same single party as before saw the establishment of farmers organisations. These so-called village tons (meaning grouping in Bambara and Malinké) were supposed to boost support activities for rural communities. They were based in the village, that s true enough, but their creation was infused with a planned and administrative mindset, imposed from top to bottom. They did not have the desired effect, even if at the local level the development of some economic infrastructure, with the collaboration of external partners, did help some areas to thrive. So was there any change in the way farmers were organised when democracy came in 1991? Democratisation ushered in a multitude of organisations, cooperatives and Economic Interest Groups (GIE) set up by the farmers themselves. Rural concertations were organised, and they insisted strongly on professional farmers organisations being endowed with the appropriate status of legal recognition and the capacity to obtain resources. It was after these events that the first master plan for the rural development sector was drawn up, in 1992; this enabled rural communities to engage in viable economic activities. One of the corollaries of the country s democratisation and liberalisation was the withdrawal of the State from certain sectors. In the area of agriculture, the State pulled out of production, processing, marketing and the supply of inputs to farmers. These traditional functions had to be transferred to the private sector and to farmers organisations. This explains the growth in capacity-building programmes with agricultural organisations over the past 10 to 15 years. But are they up to these responsibilities? Look, we only grasped the reality of market prices when the State withdrew, having previously subsidised practically every single chain of production. And when direct State funding was stopped, so too was access to credit. The private banks need guarantees, and farmers organisations do not have enough to be credible. As a result, their support organisations are unable to make any sustainable investments. We have seen measurable progress in intensified production in peri-urban areas and in the cotton sector, but most farmers have stayed stuck in relatively fragile systems of production. And so we have a situation today where farmers have the know-how and the will to improve their production and to be players in national, regional and world markets, but they lack the infrastructure and equipment to meet all the demands that these markets place on them. Do you think that the leaders of farmers organisations are becoming a new elite, getting rich at the expense of the farmer? Farmers today have a better reading of their situation. With the advent of democratisation, grassroots farmers participate in all the decisions that affect them. They have their own organisations and they can express themselves through them. A properly functioning farmers organisation provides services to its members and allows them to express their concerns. It organises its constitutional meetings and assemblies and it operates democratically. On the other hand, when an organisation is not functioning properly, then there is indeed a loss of confidence between it and the farmer. And, let me be clear, in our young democracies there will always be some departures from the norm. But these leadership problems fade into the background against the aspirations of the farmers of Mali. They want to see their opinions on such issues as savings or globalisation taken into account and defended Their representatives now know full well how to get their wishes noticed in international fora. And all this when, let s face it, the farmers of Mali are not playing on a level playing field: in their country, the State was forced to withdraw, whereas in the countries of the North, the State continues to subsidise its agriculture! The opinions expressed in Viewpoint are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of CTA.
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