Our hands are tied!
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CTA. 2002. Our hands are tied!. Rural Radio Resource Pack 02/5. Wageningen, The Netherlands: CTA.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/57270
A representative from Cameroon?s Ministry of Agriculture describes how liberalisation has affected farmers, and what the government is doing to support them. Rules imposed by the International Monetary Fund have limited what the government can do.
Our hands are tied! Cue: You might not think that farmers and governments have much in common. After all, you don?t see many farmers being driven around in expensive cars, nor do you see many government ministers sweating in the fields. But one thing that farmers and governments do have in common is that their opportunities and decisions are often highly controlled by outside institutions and regulations. In Cameroon, for example, the government?s freedom to make and implement policies has been heavily influenced by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, known as the IMF. Under pressure from these global institutions Cameroon has transformed its national economy, from a centrally-planned system run by the government, to one where market forces rule the day. This has had some profound effects on agricultural productivity, not least for the small-scale farmers. To find out more, Martha Chindong visited the Ministry of Agriculture in Yaound‚, and spoke to Syxtus Nuza, a ministry representative. She began by asking him to explain the economic change that had occurred in Cameroon. IN: ?Well for some time now ?? OUT: ??way it is supposed to do.? DUR?N 4?49? BACK ANNOUNCEMENT: Martha Chindong reporting from the Ministry of Agriculture in Yaound‚, Cameroon. Transcript Nuza Well for some time now, we?ve been trying our hand in what we call a liberalised economy. Before 1990, we were in what we call a centrally planned economy, where government fixed the prices of agricultural products to allow the urban people, mostly civil servants, to be able to buy food. But in a liberalised economy, all these other price fixing mechanisms have been taken off. It is just a question of supply and demand; government is no longer giving support to the farming population. And so government has withdrawn from most of the production sectors. Before that we used to have the fertilizer sub-sector which the government used to subsidise. We had government seed multiplication farms, this is no longer the case, and the government used to market the products for the farmers; this is no longer the case. Chindong What are the results of all this on the small-scale farmer? Nuza The results have been very devastating on the small-scale farmer. And this is explained for several reasons. Among them is the fact that the liberalised economy was very sudden. We moved from a centrally planned economy, where government assisted the farmers, to suddenly allowing them to fend for themselves, in all aspects. They no longer had access to the seeds; the price of fertilizer was up, and then they were left to fend for themselves to sell the products. That is why poverty abounds in Cameroon, because the small-scale farmer suddenly found himself in a liberalised economy. Chindong Being aware of all this, what is the government doing? Nuza Government has taken some measures to alleviate this poverty. Before 1990, farmers could not come together. But the law of 1990, on freedom of association, gave them the permission to give them the right to be able to associate freely. By coming together, they have the opportunity of marketing their products in common. They have the opportunity of collectively buying inputs, having access to loans, either from government institutions or non-governmental institutions. Government also re-orientated a few of its programmes. For example the National Agricultural Extension Service, which was essentially giving out technical information, has changed its orientation. They will not only give out this technical information, but accompany this information with some assistance, financial assistance, to allow the farmers to put into place some of those basic infrastructures that the farmers need, such as drying structures, small irrigation schemes, and so on. And these are the kind of measures that the government has put into place at the local level. At the regional level, within the Central African Region, government has pushed, is participating in opening the frontiers, to be able to allow agricultural products to move back and forth across the borders. So opening these frontiers to our neighbours, opens markets for these small-scale farmers to be able to market their products. And we are building, government is putting into place, this programme of building frontier markets that would allow the small farmer to be able to bring produce to that area. Chindong How effective in your opinion, are these measures? Nuza The results have been very slow in coming, given that I did not make mention of financing, and that is the crux of the matter. Our funding partners do not allow us to subsidise the agriculture, so most of these we have talked about; the legal measures, the institutional framework that government has put into place; we?ve talked about some of the infrastructures that they have put into place. But what do you do with this if you do not have the money? So the results have been kind of mixed; if we were allowed to subsidise the agriculture, then I think the results would be much more impressive. Chindong Who is supposed to allow you to subsidise the agriculture? Nuza Well, you know we are on this structural adjustment plan; this is piloted by the International Monetary Fund. We have been hoping that with the debt relief, the HIPIC initiative, that will allow us to put some more money into the agricultural sector for the benefit of these small-scale farmers. Chindong So if you were in a place to advise, or to say what, what would you say as a last word? Nuza I would say that the Cameroon economy is essentially agricultural, and the agricultural sector is dominated by these small-scale farmers. We have to be able to put into place those measures that allow these small-scale farmers to find their place, otherwise the agricultural sector in Cameroon will never be able to support the economy the way it is supposed to do. End of track.