Major challenges to agricultural development mark CTA's first decade
MetadataShow full item record
CTA. 1993. Major challenges to agricultural development mark CTA's first decade. Spore 45. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/49132
Ten years have passed since CTA's first staff members were appointed. In the history of what we nowadays call 'development', and of the young nations of the ACP Group, ten years is a relatively long period. What changes and events have characterized...
Ten years have passed since CTA's first staff members were appointed. In the history of what we nowadays call 'development', and of the young nations of the ACP Group, ten years is a relatively long period. What changes and events have characterized development issues during that period, and what might the future hold in store? In terms of both technology and ideology the last decade has seen vigorous debate and steady progress: such words as sustainability, biotechnology and CD-ROM were not in common parlance ten years ago. But the light provided by these developments has so far failed to overcome the darkness created by other events that were not then on the agenda: the AIDS epidemic, global warming and the more immediate consequences of structural adjustment among them. Much of Africa in particular has had an extraordinarily difficult decade. Only in Africa do we find population growth rates that continue to increase whilst food production per head is falling. The continent has suffered from severe drought and desertification, not to mention civil warfare. Over the last decade technologies and policies which could help to advance development in ACP countries have been refined and adapted, and development issues have often been addressed with more wisdom and maturity than was the case in the past. The Lagos Plan of Action, which was drawn up in 1980 by the Organization of African Unity, set forth the African perspective on what steps need to be taken to solve Africa's complex food crisis and put the continent on a proper development path; its twin themes were self-reliance and self-sustained development. The implementation of the plan has been beset by many problems, among them a crisis of continental proportions, the debt crisis and a prolonged world economic recession. In the sixties and seventies the debate within the aid agencies had often been led by those with experience of government in a colonial context. In the early days of independence the requirement for industrialization was sometimes over-estimated; large projects became the order of the day. Then came the laudable attempts to promote the difficult concept of integrated rural development. Crop improvement policies were beginning to use Asia's Green revolution as a model, but the successes could not easily be repeated in other situations. Crop improvement methodologies focused on plant architecture (ideotypes), induced mutations and protein quality improvements. With fewer needs, and fewer technical possibilities, relatively little attention was paid to the information component of agricultural development. But some concepts from those years really have taken root; among them the need to identify and promote intermediate technologies whenever it is appropriate to do so. Environmental concerns The first decade of CTA's existence has seen momentous developments affecting agriculture in the ACP States. Much of the progress has centred around issues which we have come to call 'environmental'. Landmark events in this context have included the publication in 1986 of the report of the World Commission on Environment and Development entitled Our common future which stimulated the debate on the concept of sustainability, and last year's UN Conference on Environment and Development at Rio de Janeiro which gave rise to 'Agenda 21'. Linked to this is the growing awareness of the need to conserve biodiversity in its broadest sense. Changes affecting the world's ozone layer, first reported in 1983, and increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere as a result of industrial activity, were identified as the main factors behind global warming. Global warming has particular implications for tropical forest management and the maintenance of soil fertility. Concern for the environment is one factor that has led to the interest in low external input agriculture; it has also been a driving force behind the organic agriculture movement. The decade has been much influenced by the growing appreciation of the role played by women in the development process; the World Conference on the UN Decade for Women, held in Nairobi in 1985, was a turning point. In most ACP countries social issues have received higher profiles than before; nowadays there are often lower expectations from the 'technological fix' approach to development problems, whilst socio-economic considerations receive higher priority. This, together with decreasing financial resources available to national governments, has favoured the growth of non-governmental organizations (NGOs). A number of development matters that were previously the concern of the formal sector are now being addressed, through NGOs, at the community level. The role of government in the development process is rapidly changing. This is partly a consequence of the collapse of the former Soviet empire, which has affected official aid flows, has assisted the process of privatization and has led to increased calls for more open, democratic government. In many countries these calls have been heeded. Attitudes to research aimed at improving farming systems have changed quite remarkably. The pre-independence administrations preferred monocultures; they had reason to do so. Nowadays we not only approve of mixed cropping, we actively encourage it: nowhere is this trend more evident than in the interest shown in agroforestry. These developments have revolutionized farming systems research (FSR), as have other attitudinal questions. Two kinds of knowledge We nowadays recognize the need to encourage the farmer to participate in FSR and are putting behind us the concept that extension must be a top-down process. Researchers and extension workers have realized that farmers' knowledge may be as relevant as their own. Although they tend to exist in isolation from each other, successful development often comes through a marriage of these two knowledge bases. From the point of view of raising agricultural production potentials, the technology which has dominated the decade has beef biotechnology. Despite some early, unrealistic expectations which misled and disappointed many, significant advances are now being made in this area. Another area in which there is real progress is Integrated Pest Management (IPM). If it was concern for the environment that revitalized interest in the concept of IPM, then it is progress in biotechnology that is often helping the concept to become a reality. CTA's first decade has coincided with al era that has been characterized by a new dynamism with regard to issues affecting agricultural and rural development. But these achievements have too often been masked by difficulties, threats and problems. The demands of structural adjustment programmes have sometimes raised the cost of external inputs to prohibitive levels. Agricultural commodity prices on world markets have been depressed, forcing farmers to diversify their activities; and the success rate of diversification programmes has generally been disappointing. The shadows cast by the AIDS epidemic will have profound effects on the labour resources available for agriculture. The present era has been described as being unlike any other, as the direction of technical change is influenced not just by farmers, engineers, technicians and artisans at the local level, but also by bureaucrats, economists, far-away corporate planners, aid agencies and charities. Never before in history have so many non-technical people exerted so much influence on the advancement and movement of technology. This has had implications for the ways in which CTA has set about its task of improving access to technical information for agricultural development in the ACP States: the relevant information must now be made available to people at many different levels and in many different types of organization. Books still in demand What of the changes to the ways in which information is disseminated? Despite the substitution of electronic technologies for tedious typesetting procedures, books and periodicals remain expensive to produce. Yet they are still the most popular format for disseminating information. In CTA's early days it was widely predicted that electronic media would significantly displace books and journals over a period of about five years. That has not happened. It was expected that very few books would be published on tropical agriculture, in view of the unattractiveness of the market to commercial publishers. This prediction has also proved false - thanks, to a greater or lesser extent, to CTA and others who have fought to ensure that such books continue to be published. In fact, the number of new publications on tropical agricultural development must be close to the all-time high. Future historians may consider one of the most revolutionary figures of the late twentieth century to be Ted Hoff, who developed the micro-processor. This device has revolutionized the ways in which we handle information. Without it the personal computer would not be the ubiquitous item it is today, and there would be no CD-ROM technology. CD-ROM technology, and CTA itself, belong to the same generation. This technology has enabled CTA to help revolutionize the way information, particularly databases on abstracts of research papers, is made available to ACP States. The personal computer, meanwhile, has facilitated the development of another of the decade's growth areas, information networking. The relationship between the events of the past decade and the activities which CTA has supported (such as technical meetings, conferences, studies, study visits, rural radio, question-answer services, preparation of directories and bibliographies, production of publications and co-publications including Spore, and strengthening ACP documentation and publishing capabilities) will be illustrated at length in a forthcoming CTA publication. Where next? It seems probable that the populations of cities and towns in ACP States will continue to grow apace. With limited economic prosperity, interest may focus increasingly on urban deprivation. This may lead to a growing awareness of the interdependence of the towns and the rural areas which surround them. Unless remarkable changes in attitudes and understanding can be brought about, agricultural land will continue to be lost at an alarming rate as a consequence of soil degradation. In much of Africa, it seems probable that there will be less and less state intervention in agricultural development; and various factors, among them higher demands from the health sector, may dictate that less money will be available for agricultural projects. Conflicts of interest affecting agricultural production, on the one hand, and the concerns of tourism and environmental protection on the other, will give rise to much soul-searching. The road to recovery New technical developments can be expected, which will bring real benefits; and the cost of some existing technologies may continue to fall, sometimes dramatically. This will certainly apply to information technologies, and should encourage ACP States to step up their own documentation and publishing activities. Indeed, it seems that circumstances will require them to adopt a more self-centred attitude to almost all aspects of development. There is every indication that the agricultural sector will still be required to play a dominant role in the economies of ACP countries, but it will have to do so with a heavier reliance on indigenous resources. ACP States will need access to more and more technical information if they are to increase their self-reliance, and CTA's role will be to make this information easier for them to obtain. The cost of doing this will be of a far lower order of magnitude than the investments that were made in the agricultural projects of those early years, but the returns will be far greater. There are few reasons to doubt that this kind of assistance is becoming ever more appropriate to the needs of ACP countries as time progresses.