Farmers: beneficiaries or partners ?
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Seck, Ibrahim. 1994. Farmers: beneficiaries or partners ?. Spore 50. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/49347
Ibrahim Seck is President of the Savings and Credit Commission of the Federation of NGOs of Senegal, and is a farmer from Diogo in the Niayes area. What can we say about the state of agricultural development in Africa today? Despite the efforts of...
Ibrahim Seck is President of the Savings and Credit Commission of the Federation of NGOs of Senegal, and is a farmer from Diogo in the Niayes area. What can we say about the state of agricultural development in Africa today? Despite the efforts of the extension services, results are not encouraging Self-sufficiency in food has not been achieved, soils are deteriorating and yields are falling. What is the reason behind this lack of progress? Policy makers tend to think of farmers as passive 'beneficiaries` of development and not as active 'partners'. This is the result of a false belief that there is a kind of chain which runs from the offices of administrators to the fields via research laboratories, agricultural institutions, training centres, extension and all the other intermediaries whether technical, financial or administrative. But in reality there is no straight line from top to bottom. It is a complex tangle of social, cultural, economic, environmental and political factors of which farmers are an integral part and from which nothing should prevent them from playing a responsible role in this development process. What are we aiming for? We should be working towards sustainable production systems which are adapted to the current national and international situation. The goal must be to put agricultural products on the market at a price that rewards the producers. This should be achieved by using local renewable sources of energy, reducing external inputs to a minimum and ensuring that the environment is protected. How do we get there? By using a capital resource so far unexploited: our farmers' knowledge. There is not one amongst us who is not aware that if the land has to provide us with nourishment, we must in turn nourish the land. Even the most illiterate farmer knows that we must not lose the microorganisms in the soil that work at no cost on our behalf. On this foundation we farmers have developed strategies for survival based on diversity of production in harmony with the environment. On the other hand, modern farming practices have taken a too production-oriented line. This has not sufficiently taken into account farmers' own reasons for avoiding monoculture and for thinking of trees, not just as vegetation belonging to the forest but as an integral part of agriculture. In just the same way we farmers have used our own empirical research to develop ways of integrating livestock and draft animals into our farming systems. We have our own traditional ways of looking after our crops in the field and protecting our grain stores from the ravages of pests and diseases. Researchers should get to know us better in order to help us improve on what we already know, and not just ignore or wipe out all that we have learned at the stroke of a pen. How should we do it? We must, above all else, ensure that information is circulated between all the partners involved. We must remember that farmers are also a source of information; that extension staff have as much to learn as the farmers. And farmers in one region have just as much need to know how farmers in a neighbouring region do things as to know the latest results from the research laboratories. In the past knowledge was transferred visually from individual to individual and the method was: see, judge, and act. We must encourage the exchange of practical experiences because the role of farmers is crucial to the success of agriculture. It is in this context that progress will come from the farmers themselves. They ask no more than that their reasons for doing things in their own way are respected. If we can give them this respect they are capable themselves of taking up the four challenges which face them. What are the challenges? The first is cultural. We need to reestablish the values of village solidarity which individualism demolishes. In the past, when a farmer no longer had the means to feed his family, the villagers came in the night, anonymously, to fill his food store and he did not feel humiliated by this charity. The second is economic. Improve profitability. This implies a need for communication between experts and farmers; a flow of information about markets, both local and further afield, and extension advice about the local and international economy. The third is environmental. Improve techniques for protecting the environment by learning from what is being done elsewhere. The fourth challenge is political. Achieve democratic management of power, of knowledge and of wealth. Information should serve as the means of achieving a more equal share for all by raising the level of those currently suffering the greatest disadvantage. The farming community must become a force which cannot be ignored by the rest of society - including planners and policy makers. Then we shall achieve a system of agricultural production which is diverse, socially just, economically viable and environmentally sound. That is what sustainable agriculture is all about. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of CTA.