Pan African Connection
Bringing Literacy, Education and Development to disadvantaged communities across Africa
Agriculture:
There are many stakeholders in Africa who view agriculture as a means to increase living standards. These vary
from the World Bank, the IMF and the African Congress. So all these concerns and
farmers themselves, all share
one point of agreement: Agriculture is the way for Africa to alleviate or even eradicate poverty, help increase
domestic GDP, improve the balance of payments, improve foreign currency reserves and possibly even improve
country currency valuations. So, if there is this kind of agreement within so many parties, then this should be the
smallest page on this website which aims to bring literacy, education, local development and raise the bar on
personal responsibility and accountability in the rural communities of Africa, right? We should just end with a period
and close the page? Yes?

Well, perhaps not so fast.

Before we do, let’s endeavor to look at the historical record in the area of agriculture. We will be brief and focused on
the relevancy to Africa. Before we get rolling on that review, we will list some of the positive (P) and negative (N)
points in recent discussion about agriculture:

(P)  Some multi-party agreements call for African governments to spend 10% of their national budgets on
agriculture.
(N)  Typical to multi-lateral agreements, implementation of this policy is sporadic.
(P)  Some governments are in fact increasing expenditures in the agricultural sector, for instance Zambia recently
announced the increase of  34 million US dollars towards sectors of agriculture.
(N)  If recent past history is a guide, some of the actual allocations will not be received where they are needed. In
past years, fertilizer given to farmers was not distributed in certain quarters of the country for lack of transport.
(P)  Local investors are calling attention to others in Africa to invest in their local surroundings.
(N)  Leadership is lacking to address significant issues that will hold back exports. For instance, there is no
mechanism or implementation to deal with hoof and mouth disease that still lingers in some parts of Zambia.
(P)  While internationally it is recognized that agriculture will help Africa gain a better economic position, a look at the
world and local realities discovers for us:
(N)   That agreements at the WTO and other regional agreements fail to lower tariffs and even barriers to African
produce.
(P)  Monies are deployed for such things as rural community centers or even irrigation projects.
(N)  Some of these funds go unused because of the lack of capacities to deal with the complexities of finance or
because of risk aversion and/or uninformed potential recipients.

The picture that emerges as far as agriculture in Africa is concerned is not a clear panorama but at best a foggy
patchwork of disperse views of meadows, high mountains, rivers and valleys unconnected and in an obscuring
view.

The above are just some of the many facts that can be listed both positive and negative. It should be noted that
commercial farming concerns do not have the fogginess described above. These enterprises are well financed,
well run and are looking to increase their investments.

As discussed before, a critical examination of development brought the idea of leapfrogging past some of the
outmoded stages of development. In a similar way and in light of the historical context in agriculture in other
countries, a critical view of agriculture and the efforts conducted to help the subsistence farmer and small scale
producers brings us to certain conclusions and points of discussion.

The epitome examples of small scale producers’ countries are Mexico and India, while South Africa is has an
excellent commercial farm based agricultural sector trying to develop small scale farming since the break-up of
apartheid. India and Mexico do have large scale commercial producers, but the majority of the land available for
agriculture is held in small plots.

In the case of Mexico, land reform and agrarian programs ran for over 80 years, ever since the Zapata revolution of
1910. This institutionalized revolution (?) speeded- up in the mid 1960’s when programs were started to help the
Ejido farmer get access to finance in the form of lower cost loans. In years of high fuel costs programs were
instituted to rebate a portion of these expenses. In other years actual disbursements were actuated to help increase
production.

A critical look at the situation will lead you to qualify the whole experiment as a failure. Why? The country today has to
import food to satisfy domestic demand.  The process to reach this unsettling conclusion was paved with some
heavy handedness on the part of government over the years. The middle class and those in higher positions would
have to give up land if it exceeded an acreage determined by the government. The effect attained is that farming
lacked in resources to develop capacities for greater production. Price controls were in effect at times since the
Federal government was the primary buyer, selling food stuffs to the poorer families at subsidized prices. Once
again, limiting the scope of the free enterprise and free market systems, driving producers away from meaningful
gains.

The historical modality of thinking was that the small scale producer would provide the food requirements for the
nation, they have received subsidies, land and help to borrow money for equipment, so what happened?

The answers, yes in the plural, are a variety of circumstances unique to the Mexican experience. Much of the land
distributed across the nation was marginal for agricultural production, so in those areas of high inputs and low
yields, the people working those lands were setup for failure. Those lands could not possibly be made to yield
sufficient return on the meager inputs applied; a different program with a longer time frame of constant inputs
(these marginal lands will respond to the slower methods of organic farming that raises the nutrients and humus of
the land, instead chemical farming was tried) to raise the fertility of the soil, would have yielded different results.

A close second to the same marginal lands, is that once the operator on that plot had experienced the low yields,
his sights were set north, were it was thought, from looking at the neighbors, that across the border money could be
made, driving farmers into the United States as legal and illegal immigrants.

One other answer to what happened? Is the fact that on the part of government there was not enough attention paid
to monitoring inputs and reviewing results. While part blame can be attributed to the highly politicized movement of
agrarian reform that lasted decades.

Lastly, there is enough evidence that the actual farmers especially so in later years, took government grants and
disbursements meant to help agricultural production and simply used the assets somewhere else. Some of this
attitude towards the grants and helps given can be partly attributed to their experience on marginal lands and the
less than expected yields.

The areas of the country that have prime agricultural lands have been growing economically and are doing very well
in agricultural production, but their efforts do not equate to the needs of the nation. The lessons to be gained from
Mexico’s experience with the Ejido program are numerous but a brief listing is well for us to assimilate as Africa
moves to expand agricultural capacity.

1)        Provisioning of land (land distribution) does NOT equate to a corresponding increase in production
  capacity. (Is it too late Mr. Mugabe?)

2)        Grants, helps and government disbursements for agriculture need monitoring and follow-up to ascertain
  benefit.
3)        Locking-up lands (under the Ejido program land received could not be sold) without proper production
  management has the very likely effect of marginalizing productivity.
4)        That the same fluidity of populations experienced in developing countries that affect other sectors of the
  economy, also affect agriculture, driving people out of effective production.
5)        From the previous two items we can also infer the combined effects of lands that cannot be sold or traded
  (tribal lands) and de-population of agricultural areas giving us the combined effect of lower than expected
  results on inputs.
6)        Even relatively productive farming areas tended towards de-population; exemplified simply by the notion: “We
  have money, let’s buy a house in the city.”

In no way should it be construed that Pan-African Connection is against the development of agriculture in Africa.
Quite the contrary, but we are urging a close look at the relevant historical examples, such as the one given. The
lessons extracted can and should be used to more aptly and intelligently advance agriculture in the rural areas. For
this to take place, greater reliance on the tools of the information age should be used for training, evaluation and
monitoring of inputs and results.

The experience and the lessons offered by some of the other countries are actually easily understood. Small scale
producers that have no access to funding for equipment are really just a problem away from disaster as things
always have to go well for them to have a crop and a living.

The small scale producers need to operate their farms with the best management and production techniques. This
is why it is urged that more machinery be introduced (properly managed as both a financially sound investment, in
monitoring and evaluations of inputs versus production) by aggregating their financial capacity, increased
knowledge of farming and market forces, and by increasing the amount of lands they work via rental agreements,
bringing a quicker return on investment, which in their case means paying-off loans sooner.
India as a country produced a large amount of medium size tractors as a strategy to increase agricultural capacity;
they too have reached a point where production has stalled.

Analysis should show the same tendencies described earlier. With small or medium size tractors, agricultural
production will reach a point of equilibrium, what will move it higher, will be bigger size tractors that can get a field
ready in a substantially lower period of time. Another is increased acreage in production made possible by the
larger tractor. Corresponding capacities in harvesting and storage need to be made.

Without moving into the industrialization of farming, a country such as India will not easily move production capacity
upwards. The market forces of consolidation, increased production, and efficiencies of scale need to be played out,
quite obviously, this may not be allowed to happen since it will by its very nature displace workers out of agriculture,
rendering this politically unattainable.

At a slower pace though, these same forces described above will begin to play-out in the causeway of population
dynamics and its fluidity.

Another thought needs to be evaluated. As
we move into the future and the effects of global warming get more
strident, it will also affect crop production. Necessitating counter-action which implies cognizance and factual
scientific endeavors to minimize risk and maintain production levels. These things point to
timely information and
knowledge and the capacities to deploy required measures, probably meaning increased financial burdens to
maintain agricultural capacity.


Pan-African Connection