Rural development and African prosperity: learning from the past
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CTA. 1994. Rural development and African prosperity: learning from the past. Spore 52. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
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Sub-Saharan Africa gained its independence with great expectations, most of which have not been fulfilled. Some 32 of the 47 countries on the United Nations' list of poorest countries are African and the World Bank has described this as the greatest...
Sub-Saharan Africa gained its independence with great expectations, most of which have not been fulfilled. Some 32 of the 47 countries on the United Nations' list of poorest countries are African and the World Bank has described this as the greatest sustained development failure of the century. What can be learned from past mistakes in order to salvage and restore African rural economies? Africa remains a rural society largely dependent on agriculture and pastoralism. Even in a country such as oil-rich Nigeria agriculture is still the major producer of national income. Eighty percent of Africans live in the rural areas and produce four-fifths of national output. Yet their needs, together with the opportunity to build a strong rural economy, have been by-passed. Instead, governments have given priority to the demands of the 20% of their people settled in towns. By focusing resources on urban and industrial development many governments have placated urban concentrations of population, who might otherwise have proved de-stabilizing politically, but the consequences overall are now all too apparent. At independence Africa largely fed itself and was a leading exporter of palm oil (75% of world trade during World War II), coffee and cotton, and also of timber, tea and groundnuts. Now, Malaysia controls 75% of world trade in palm oil, producing more than West Africa. Indonesia, which was an insignificant coffee exporter 20 years ago, now exports more than either C\F4te d'Ivoire or Uganda, Africa's two principal producers. Food production has fallen so far behind population growth and the continent has been reduced to dependence on imported food. Some of the food required is provided as food aid but much has to be purchased either with scarce foreign exchange or borrowed funds, at astronomical interest rates. It has been estimated by FAO that by 2010 Africa will need US$28.7 billion to import food to supplement regional production and yet it cannot expect to be receiving more than US$12 billion from the export of its agricultural products. Africa faces the double problem of an increasing need for food imports and a declining ability to afford them. Even if Africa could afford to pay for the increasing quantity of food it will need, or if other countries could give the food free, the continent lacks the transport infrastructure - docks, roads and railways - to distribute such a huge quantity of goods. The only option To survive economically African countries have one option only and that is to invest in, mobilize and develop the rural sector. In the past many African governments have given commitments to do this. As long ago as 1980 the Lagos Plan of Action for Economic Development of Africa, which was approved by the special session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the OAU, affirmed the need 'for an effective agricultural revolution in Africa'. The Assembly insisted that policies had to emphasize consistently the need not only to improve the living conditions of the farmers, but also to increase real farm income as a means of making agriculture more attractive and remunerative. In effect African policy makers recognized that the road to effective agricultural development is through rural development. Then, in 1986 at the meeting to discuss the African Priority Programme for Economic Recovery (APPER), Heads of State agreed that 25% of national budgets be directed to the agricultural sector. Similar commitments were made at the Popular Participation declaration in Arusha in 1989, and at the African Heads of State meeting in Addis Ababa in 1990. Yet no African government has ever committed such a proportion of its funds to rural development. In contrast, India has consistently directed a substantial part of the national budget to rural development peaking at 30% under Indira Gandhi in her first term of office. Almost everywhere in the world a firm foundation of rural development has been an essential precursor to industrial growth and urban employment (exception are city states such as Hong Kong an' Singapore and the oil-based economies c Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States). The most important, though not the only economic rural activity is agriculture and a healthy agriculture provides food self-sufficiency, employment and a surplus for export. It also forms the basis for small-scale industrialization based on agricultural service industries including agro-processing, manufacture and repair of fern implements, transport and the financial infrastructure for banking and credit. As successful small businesses grow, experience and resources are available for investment in new ventures. Meanwhile the rural population, provided with employment opportunities both in agriculture and its supporting services and industries, can remain for the most part in their home towns and villages, which in turn grow and develop Mass migration to a few cities is avoided together with the strain on urban services that unplanned settlements invariably cause. Planning a better future: the participatory approach Failures in rural development go beyond lack of sufficient investment: much of the investment that has been committed to rural development has not achieved expected targets. Causes include inappropriate design and implementation of projects and ineffective support services. Rural people are central to any rural development project, yet seldom has project planning been based on establishing needs and priorities as perceived by the people who will be involved in projects. When asked, their priorities are usually different from those imagined by expatriate planners or government officers (see Box). When local people are consulted in the preliminary stages not only is their local knowledge utilized but they themselves also feel involved. Indeed, if they are provided with meaningful roles within the project they come to view it as 'their project' and are more likely to commit themselves as individuals and as a community. This helps to ensure a sustainability that may otherwise be lacking. In contrast, rural people on whom projects are imposed may appear cooperative during a project's life but when the project comes to an end and staff are withdrawn there is neither the management experience nor the interest among local inhabitants to maintain momentum. It is now being realized that if local people are trained to do so they can take over the day-to-day management when project staff depart and, in many situations, there is no need for civil servants to be employed on a long term basis. This provides sustainability and considerable savings in salaries. Where agriculture is the focus of rural development farmers require inputs, credit and marketing services. In the past many governments have created monopolistic bureaucracies to supply inputs and purchase production. Not only have these state or parastatal bodies been unreliable, they have also lacked the commercial skills, organization and transport to buy, move, store and sell on the crops for which they have been the only legal outlet. As a consequence low prices and late payment have proved powerful disincentives for farmers to increase production. In West Africa especially, though not solely, agricultural trading is largely in the hands of women. Women in Africa are also largely responsible for the production of food crops. Yet women remain largely marginalized in rural development: in many African countries they are not permitted title to land, and if they can buy land or they wish to borrow money they may have to do so through a male member of the family. Despite their disadvantaged and overworked position, many women are proving innovators (for example in flower production for export in Tanzania, palm oil pressing in West Africa, cheese production, beekeeping and aquaculture) and would be able to contribute more to the financial well-being of their families, communities and countries if financial and other resources were made available to them. Finance is the lubricant if not the fuel of commerce and, if agriculture is to develop beyond subsistence and bartering, government funding organizations and commercial banks will have to be more forthcoming with the credit facilities required. There is risk and there is cost in administering small loans to large numbers of farmers. There is also frequently lack of collateral. But experience in Asia and Africa has shown that lending very small amounts to individuals, can result in both very high returns and excellent repayment (see Spore 11 Credit: a question of confidence and Spore 12 A bank for the poor). Functional numeracy and literacy go hand-in-hand with money management and all three contribute to development of individuals and communities. Rural industries Education raises expectations, one of which is the aspiration to do more than manual work. Agro-processing using small-scale equipment offers both an alternative employment to agriculture and an opportunity to add value to local produce. Currently the majority of agricultural products leave rural areas to be processed either centrally in the country of origin or in an importing country. This results in a loss of employment and wealth to the rural sector. Certainly there are economies of scale in centralized processing of grain, manufacturing fruit and vegetables into conserves and relishes, crushing oilseeds, compounding animal feeds, making dairy products such as cheese, and packaging herbs and spices. But to be efficient large centralized facilities require a constant and high volume of throughput, which is difficult to maintain. Dispersed local processing on a smaller scale is usually more labour-intensive, requires less investment in sophisticated, modern plant, is closer to sources of supply, produces a smaller volume of higher value products to transport, and leaves residues in rural areas where they have a better chance of being utilized rather than in urban areas where they are at best a nuisance and at worst a pollutant. Examples are cereal brans and polishings, fruit and vegetable trimmings, oil cake residues and milk residues, all of which are costly to redistribute from urban centres but are close to livestock feeders in the rural areas. Agriculture, agroprocessing and transport services all require the services of engineers, metal-working artisans, mechanics, carpenters, masons, plumbers and electricians. And thriving communities can afford and therefore attract the services of tailors and seamstresses, leather-workers, weavers, potters, eating places and a wide range of shops. Just as success leads to success, development encourages development. Trade, aid and investment It will be difficult for Africa to achieve rural development without assistance from outside. The continent is already a major recipient of overseas aid. But most of this aid is required for sheer survival. Africa also requires both more commercial investment and better terms of trade. Currently sub-Saharan Africa receives only 3% of total worldwide foreign private investment: this is rather less than Portugal receives. Without investment there is little hope of Africa breaking out of the low plateau of subsistence production and income since agroprocessing and the other agricultural service industries require initial investment. Trade is the other area where Africa must develop if it is to prosper. In spite of the aid programmes sub-Saharan Africa still relies far more heavily on trade than on aid for its economic prosperity with imports and exports accounting for about half the region's GDP. It follows that trade performance has a critical bearing on Africa's prospects for recovery, even though Africa's share of world trade has fallen from 3% to little more than 1 % over the last two decades. The tariffs on processed products, which are imposed by importing countries in order to protect their own markets, are undoubtedly part of the problem. Less than one-tenth of the final value of Africa's coffee and cocoa exports remains in the region. The average tariff on cocoa beans is 2.6%, on processed beans 4.3 % and on chocolate 11.8 %; this discourages investment in local processing and reinforces Africa\92s dependence on exporting primary commodities. Even in the KU, where much of Africa enjoys preferential access under the terms of the Lom\E9 Convention, Africa faces trade barriers for a range of products covered by the Common Agricultural Policy, particularly sugar, beef and vegetables. Moreover, many EU products are sold at subsidized prices in Africa undercutting local production. For example, wheat from the EU has been sold in Burkina Faso at US$60 per tone, about one third lower than the cost of producing and marketing local cereals such as sorghum and millet. If development is to succeed in Africa - and it must succeed if Africa's economic decline is to be reversed - donors, trading partners and African governments must re-examine priorities, policies and project implementation in the rural sector where agriculture has the greatest potential to drive the economy forward.
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