ACP farmers in the corridors of power
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CTA. 1998. ACP farmers in the corridors of power. Spore 78. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/48239
Internet URL: http://spore.cta.int/images/stories/pdf/old/spore78.pdf
The new farmers' organisations thrusting their way onto the political stage in the ACP countries are nothing if not ambitious. Although not yet fully recognised by their own states, they have already taken their place on the international stage....
The new farmers' organisations thrusting their way onto the political stage in the ACP countries are nothing if not ambitious. Although not yet fully recognised by their own states, they have already taken their place on the international stage. 'The fate of our farmers', they insist, 'is decided as much in Brussels, London or Geneva as it is in Bamako or Harare.' They have brought to the world scene a long, complex list of demands. They want to be listened to in the hallowed halls of power normally reserved for government officials, diplomats and experts. How can they make their voices heard? 'We are young, but we already have a history', asserts Moussa Para Diallo, a farmers' leader in Guinea. 'Farmers' groups have really taken off in the Fouta Djalon region in the last twelve years, as cultivation of potato and onions has increased.' The aura of Diallo's Farmers' Federation of Central Guinea (FPMG) now even reaches into neighbouring countries. The Senegalese farmers' leader, Bara Goudiaby, tells a similar tale 'We had to re-organise rice growing and market gardening in the Casamance region before we could enter into a dialogue with the government or the World Bank'. These two statements point to the fact that in most ACP countries, farmers' organisations are seizing the opportunities offered by freedom of expression and association, and are organising themselves. This is reflected in the new names and acronyms: FUPRO, the Federation of Farmers' Unions of Benin; the MVIWATA movement in Tanzania; AOPP, the Association of Popular Farmers' Organisations in Mali; CAM, the Circle of Farmers of Madagascar; and UNFA, the Ugandan National Farmers' Association 1. These organisations are actively discussing and debating, and their meetings pour out declaration after declaration. They all have one point in common: a razor-sharp concern for the upcoming series of international meetings that affect them (see box). At least three events loom large on the world stage: the re-negotiation of the current Lomé Convention, a process which started in September 1998, and should be completed before February 2000; the Convention of London, which regulates the food aid policies of donor nations and which is due to be renewed before June 1999; and lastly, discussions on the agricultural component of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Confusion before coordination 'The machine just rolls on relentlessly' says a worried Antoinette Aba'a, a cocoa producer in Cameroon. 'We and our governments must stop our 'empty chair' policy in international negotiations. Otherwise, others will decide upon our own future, and our children's future, for us.' It is not easy, though, to have a say. 'For years we have been knocking on the doors of power, and of the American and European negotiators', chips in Renwick Rose, a banana grower and director of the Windward Islands Farmers' Association (WINFA) in the Caribbean. 'But they do not always regard us as worthy negotiating partners. And that while we contribute almost 60% of export earnings for every island from St Vincent to St Lucia'2. Small wonder that farmers' organisations are frustrated, harassed by their lack of information and government enthusiasm to involve them. 'It is not necessarily a lack of goodwill' retorts Maurice Ouikoun, advisor to the Minister for Rural Development of Benin. 'I maintain a permanent dialogue with farmers' leaders. But, to be honest, if they ask me to produce documents about the results of the most recent debates of the WTO, I can't. And from what I know of the situation in Africa in general, the case of Benin is typical.' On the side of the European Commission, people are keen to demonstrate their noble intentions. Commission spokesperson Philippe Darmuzey: 'Take our Green Paper, which lists proposals for renewing Lomé. It emphasises a desire for partnership with civil society ? the 'decentralised stakeholders' in our jargon ? and in there we include, of course, farmers' organisations.' A Senegalese farmers' delegate, N'Diagou Fall, raises the stakes: 'That's encouraging, but how can we start this dialogue? The real issue now is to move from words to action. The Green Paper also says that the war on poverty is a central objective. Well it may be, but where in the fields of Africa can we see evidence of that?' (See box.) Reaching out without over-stretching The strident efforts of farmers' organisations to get farmers' interests recognised and taken into account are helped along by their many links to the world of the non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Yannick Jadot, a member of the Solagral association, is one of them. 'What is at stake for the farmers' organisations in the upcoming negotiations is how to broaden the debate. The issue is how to move beyond the simple reorganisation of food aid to adopting proper national policies for food security, and how to get farmers' social and environmental concerns integrated into trade negotiations.' Added to this is the need to ensure linkages between the knowledge systems of experts and farmers. Obstacles are legion here too. Farmers' organisations are inexperienced, and admittedly in need of training across the board. The pressure of sharing common goals leads some groups to fall by the wayside. 'In Central Africa, the farmers' movement is breaking up and re-forming in satellite groups' despairs the farmers' leader Jeanot Minla Mfou'ou of Cameroon3. Then again, the few real 'leaders' of farmers' organisations are often pulled away from their roots by demands on all fronts, sometimes from afar. In Mali, the leadership of the Cotton and Food Growers' Union (SYCOV) has been replaced. SYCOV's new general-secretary, Yacouba Doumbia, explains: 'It is true that we are too vulnerable to the instability of the world markets for us to ignore the international dimension of the production chain. But at the same time, and I admit it is hard, we have to deal with our immediate concerns. We have to try to get a better price for our farmers' cotton '4. Daouda Diagne of Inter-réseaux, another support organisation, sums it up: 'Farmers' organisations want their autonomy'. The difficulty is that they want to do this while globalisation is going on. They have no choice but to organise, one way or another, on all fronts. 1 See 'Etats désengagés, paysans engagés. En Afrique et en Amérique latine'. 1997. Editions FPH, 38 rue St Sabin, Paris 75011, France. 2 See 'A world of bananas', Spore 74 3 Executive secretariat of the network 'Agricultures paysannes et modernisation en Afrique' (APM-Afrique), BP 10008, Yaoundé, Cameroon. Fax: + 237 20 50 20. His remarks were made during a regional seminar held in January 1998 in Ebolowa, southern Cameroon, organised with support from CTA. 4 This point is on the agenda for the framework agreement on the management of the 'cotton production chain' between the State, the Malian Textile Company (CMDT) and SYCOV.