During this last crop season there was a change in the way that the Government of Burkina Faso interacted with the seed market. For many in the seed industry, this action might seem like a small decision in a distant land, but the action is indicative of a global intellectual battle that is important to the seed industry. The decision opposes representatives of the private sector with a populist association of small holders.
The fall of the Soviet Union and negative experiences with Marxist Leninist government and economics led to a turn toward liberalization of markets and democracy in Africa in the 1990s. The turn to liberalization of markets and limitation of the size of government is not universally accepted as a good thing. Empirically the results have been good. In Burkina Faso and other very poor African countries the change in the nature of government intervention in the economy led to an upturn in economic growth:
Burkina Faso per capital gross national income; World Development Indicators. Over the last ten years annual average income as more than doubled.
Given that the economy of Burkina Faso is predominately agricultural, a substantial portion of this growth is agricultural. Some of the growth is in more or less traditional exports of livestock to the coastal areas of West Africa, but some of the growth is in the exportation of vegetables to both the coastal countries and to Europe and in increasing commercial grain production for growing urban populations. Restricting the focus of government has enabled road building and maintenance which has a fundamental impact on the ability to commercialize agricultural products when costs of transportation fall. Reducing the cost of internal transportation has the effect of making local grain producers more competitive with well-organized rice exporting countries like Thailand.
At the time I was in Burkina in the early 1980s the road from Ouagadougou to Ouhiagouya was very good by comparison with the bush roads, but it was not paved and required any driver’s full attention. It is now paved and was part of the major road link between Bamako in Mali and Ghana when fighting in the Ivory Coast closed the usual road to the coast.
Since the rise of food prices in 2007 -2008 West African governments have gotten more involved in agricultural input subsidies than they had been in the years since market liberalization became popular in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s. The existence of subsidies for agricultural inputs presents the problem of organizing and administering them. The new subsidy program started in Burkina in 2008 and since then there have been many problems with poor quality seed and late delivery.
The price increases of 2007-8 were a sensitive topic for urban dwellers, and African leaders tend to be sensitive to the sentiment of urban dwellers because it is among the urban dwellers that revolutions and coups originate, even when in a country like Burkina Faso most of the population is rural (over 80%) and grain price increases for grain producers are positive.
For the 2013-2014 crop season the government of Burkina Faso chose to use the Association of Agricultural Input Wholesalers and Retailers, AGRODIA, (l’Association des grossistes et détaillants d’intrants agricoles) to provide the subsidies. The government hopes that the new system can solve some of the quality and distribution problems. The members of AGRODIA sold subsidized seed and fertilizer at a price lower than their costs and the government agreed to deliver a fix subsidy to the member via the association. The association handled the record keeping, making the payment of the subsidies manageable for the Burkinabe Government. For this past crop year the subsidy was 1000 CFA per 15kg unit (roughly $2).
This arrangement was opposed by the Faso Rural People’s Confederation, CPF, (Confédération Paysanne du Faso). The CPF is affiliated with the global food sovereignty movement which is prominently represented by Via Campesina. In West Africa the active Via Campesina regional affiliate is ROPPA, the West African Rural People’s Network (Réseau des organisations paysannes et de producteurs de l’Afrique de l’Ouest).
I was in Burkina in the late 70’s and early 80’s. At this time generally in West Africa, this sort of subsidy was handled by the agricultural extension services and companies owned and operated by the state. For some crops the subsidies were handled by companies specialized by crop, and in other cases the company was specialized by input commodity or geographic region. The crop companies tended to work better. There was a viable cotton program in Burkina which delivered seed and fertilizer to farmers in Burkina’s cotton belt and managed crop commercialization. There was little subsidy for the production of the cereal crops, and almost no use of improved seed or fertilizer in cereal production.
There had been large government seed operations in Africa under both the colonial regimes priors to the 1960s and the socialist and patrimonial regimes which followed them, but in Burkina these national seed programs did not exist except in the case of cotton and some support of the cereal crops within the cotton production region where the extension system was sufficiently well developed to manage such support. In other parts of Africa, one sometimes encounters nostalgia for the days when government support of the seed industry was common, prior to liberalization and government withdrawal, but that nostalgia is not relevant in Burkina. There was no national seed company to privatize.
The lack of a fertilizer distribution system is particularly important in Burkina because of wide spread deficiencies in soil phosphorous. Much of the Mossi 1 plateau in Burkina is made up of high weathered surfaces where the soil tends to be acid and iron rich. Phosphorous has either been leached from the surface or bound to iron compounds where it is unavailable. The fertility situation is similar to the situation in Central Brazil (the Cerrado) where farmers use soybean production, liming and fertilizer to alter the soil chemistry sufficiently to permit corn production. The lack of access to fertilizer prevents a similar transition in the cereal production areas of Burkina. In phosphorous deficient soils the use of phosphorous fertilizer can have effects which last for decades. 2 The existence of these long-term benefits from phosphorous fertilizer provide a public justification for fertilizer subsidies which go beyond relatively short term benefits to grain consumers which provided the short term justification for them. In effect the long term benefits are a positive economic externality.
CPF, Confédération Paysanne du Faso
The CPF exists under legal statue in Burkina. 3 This brings to mind the semi-official role of rural organizations in corporatist governments where the government serves as a mediator between sectors to manage prices and resources. I normally associate this kind of rural association with nationalist governments -such as those of post WWII Argentina, Brazil or France. It semi-official nature of CPF opens the possibility of top down influence as well as bottom up participation, but CPF seems very attached to its grassroots connections.
Corporatist tendencies were in evidence in Burkina in the early 2000s. The Government of Burkina established a partnership with a West African businessman in a business called SOPROFA, la Société de promotion des filières agricoles or the Corporation for the Promotion of Agricultural Distribution. The objective of the company was to provide come of the market support functions that were available in the cotton sector to other agricultural production: grains (especially rice), sesame, horticultural crops, etc. It would provide producer loans, supply inputs and market crops. Unfortunately the company was not well managed. It succeeded in providing attractive prices for a time but ended up with unsalable inventory, debts to creditors and loans to farmer producers which it could not collect. It went bankrupt in 2006, before the government subsidy program started. It was involved in the seed business. In the seed business, it had the difficulties in getting seed producers to maintain the quality standards that SOPROFA and the government had set. It ended up with inventory which had been purchased as seed but had to be sold as grain. The public-private partnership business model did not work in this case. Partial government ownership may have worked against it because the government may not have been willing to enforce contracts against small holders involved with seed production and loan repayment when it needed political supports from those small holders, but here I am speculating. 4
The law establishing the rural associations was passed in 1999 and CPF itself was established in 2002, during a period when agricultural prices had been falling for more or less 30 years and there was real discussion about whether West African farmers could compete with Thailand in rice production. In its early years CPF used fair trade arguments that are frequently associated with OXFAM. It is a little ironic that the success of liberalization of markets in India, China and Asia generally produced economic growth and prosperity that created global food shortages between 2007 and 2012, but those shortages made the original fair trade arguments a bit passé with respect to grain and led to the shift in food sovereignty from price protection to protection from foreign investors in African Agriculture.
Although Faso Rural People’s Confederation is local Burkinabe organization, it is easiest to understand it as affiliated with the Green movement and the global food sovereignty movement.
In the immediate conflict with AGRADIA, the CPF would like to have a larger role in the subsidized seed and fertilizer distribution system. They have a role as witnesses for the delivery of inputs. They would like to have a role in the distribution itself. Their argument is both political and ethical. They argue that they are the legitimate representatives of the producers and that the producers have a right to a role in input distribution. 5 Although the food sovereignty movement is ideologically localist in rejecting central government control in favor of local participatory social control, in practice they are great supporters of the central regulation of business, like the transfer of the seed and fertilizer distribution business to the CPF which they proposed here.
The new agrarian movement, or food sovereignty movement, sees itself as new. It tends not to see itself as the successor to Marxism because it is explicitly anti-authoritarian and rejects the scientific orientation of the Marxism as it existed from its inception to 1989. It has an environmental and sustainability component which is incompatible with the industrial orientation of Soviet era Marxism. Its affiliation is with the Green movement and its elevation of environmental sympathies, local egalitarianism and participation, social distributive justice, and non-violence. However, by sharing the theme of distributive justice with the classical Marxists, the food sovereignty movement has become the current home for those in the rural world opposing economic liberalism. As with their Marxist predecessors, they choose to see economic liberalism as an imposed world order. The assumption that the order is imposed gives the food sovereignty movement a particular opposition to the institutions of free markets, especially the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the World Trade organization. Rather than see these as collective organizations intended to solve collective problems, the food sovereignty movement sees them as parts of an evil conspiracy.
The West African food sovereignty movement is not without support from main stream nations and organizations. CPF is the Burkinabe representative of the West African Rural Peoples and Farmers’ Network of West Africa, ROPPA (Réseau des organisations paysannes et de producteurs de l’Afrique de l’Ouest). ROPPA is connected with more conventional development organizations like ECOWAS (Economic Community Of West African States), the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA, the central banking organization which manages the Francophone West African currency the CFA franc (Communauté française d’Afrique franc)), CILSS (Comité permanent Inter-Etats de Lutte contre la Sécheresse dans le Sahel), etc. In Europe ROPPA gets assistance from the European Commission. Roppa cooperates with African agricultural research organizations in an organization called The Platform for African – European Partnership in Agricultural Research for Development. CPF or parts of it have received project support from Swiss and Dutch development agencies. In Europe this conventional support should be seen as associated with the political influence of Green Parties.
For those involved with US Agriculture it is useful to think of CFA as more similar to the National Farmers’ Union rather than the American Farm Bureau. Although the Farmers Union is now largely forgotten, during the Progressive Era and the depression, the National Farmers’ Union was an important part of American agricultural political activity. The Farmers’ Union arose as part of the American rural populist movement. In recent years the more informative US association would be to compare the CFA to the Green Party of Ralph Nader.
When I lived in Burkina Faso I was unknowingly involved in an ongoing intellectual debate which is linked to the conflict been AGRODIA and the CPA. I worked for the Farming Systems Unit of the Semi-Arid Food and Grain Research and Development program (SAFGRAD) of the Organization of African Unity, now of the African Union. Much of their activity at the time was sponsored by USAID. The Farming Systems Unit as contracted by USAID to Purdue University where I was employed. The Agricultural Economics Department at Purdue was committed to showing the role of the market economy and individual decision making in the farming operations of the traditional grain producers of Burkina.
The CPF is in the western Marxist and cultural relativist traditions. Those in the broader Marxist tradition are united in asserting that market economies originated with capitalism in the late 18th and early 19th centuries and the culture which went with them was imposed by a self-interested elite. Since these market economies and the culture which goes with them were imposed, they therefore could and should be replaced with other cultures. Classical Marxists thought that the replacement of market culture would come about through a workers’ revolution. Western Marxists are inclined to think that the revolution will come about through a participatory process of cultural change. In the case of the new agrarians, represented by Via Campesina and such groups as the CPF, they see the social process of the working out of new rural culture as occurring within their organizations. They reject the authoritarian workers’ revolution (dictatorship of the proletariat) as a means to the proper new social order, but they are as committed to the replacement of capitalism and its institutions as the classical Marxists. They are opposed to notion that market economies are a traditional part of African life which predated western capitalism. This put them in intellectual conflict the SAFGRAD Farming Systems Unit which showed that market exchange was always an important part of the West African Farmer’s activities, although it was limited by the cost of transportation and exchange as well as certain restrictions imposed by tradition.
Cultural relativists, including cultural anthropologists such as Ruth Benedict, Margaret Mead, and Franz Boas shared the notion of cultural determination with the Marxists. Their idea of scrupulously avoiding judgments about the relative value of different cultures seemed superficially admirable (multiculturalism), but left little place for appreciating culture or human nature which would lead to economic development. To them cultural development was meaningless; one culture is as good as another, no matter how poor or cruel. For them culture was something to be preserved as an intrinsic value, although it might mean keeping it as if it were a museum exhibit. Compared to the Marxist scientific socialists, these people could be very socially conservative. This group, along with many or most in the field of sociology, looked at the development of market economies as a linked to the modern world. They were associated with the notion that preservation of the premodern and non-market worlds was preferable. If one was going to point to a political ally of those in this intellectual tradition, it would be M.K. Gandhi. He rejected industry and technology and proposed a return to religion as a means to order society. In the Indian tradition, he suggested religious leadership to curb both the state and the individualism of the markets.
Whereas the classical Marxists rejected market economies because they were assumed to be inefficient, social conservatives could state that people of other cultures would not make choices which lead to growth because of the restrictions of their cultures. They would not invest to maximize returns. They were constrained by their traditions. Many of the new agrarians see this constrain from market participation as a good thing.
In 1980 time I was largely unaware of the intellectual battle associated with my project. I was just an agronomist from the American tradition. To me the idea that farmers would make individual self-interested decisions about their agricultural production seemed largely unremarkable, and certainly not controversial. I could not foresee the ferocity of the intellectual battle that was raging and continues to rage.
Most of the members of the generation of African socialist leaders which came after independence were either in the Marxist tradition or in the Fabian Socialist tradition in the Anglophone world. 6 They were supporters of big scientifically managed government who used economic development and growth as justification for government intervention in their economies. Today, the new agrarians reject authoritarian government, even in the pursuit of development. They value communal participation and moral coherence above economic growth.
There is one intellectual who connects West Africa with the western Marxists: Karl Polanyi. 7 Karl Polanyi was a Hungarian economic historian who ended up working in the US and living in Canada. 8 Polanyi wrote an influential book on economics, The Great Transformation. 9 He asserts that prior to the eighteenth century individualistic thought processes such as profit maximization were not a part of human culture. Much of the work has been refuted with subsequent study of economic history. The roles of tradition and government institutions in constraining or directing human choice varies from time to time and place to place, especially depending on the constraints of transport, but exchange has been around for a millennia in all societies. The transformation to settled agriculture undoubtedly increased the role of exchange in human society, but there is archeological evidence of exchange even among pre-agricultural hunter- gatherers. Polanyi was wrong about the role of exchange in traditional society, whether in medieval Europe, the Ancient Middle East, or pre-colonial Africa. The expensive transportation of the ancient world restricted long range trade but local trade was ubiquitous, although government and social constraints to trade were also universal.
Polanyi’s last book was about traditional Dahomey in West Africa, the country which is now Benin. 10 The book is now largely forgotten, but illustrates the difference between Polanyi and the classical Marxists. Polanyi was willing to make a positive example of precolonial Benin because he asserted that it was an example of a socially regulated, non-market economy, and to Polanyi any non-market economy was superior. By my standards the king of Dahomey of the time was not a very good person or leader. He was heavily involved in the slave trade, kept thousands of women in concubinage and servitude, and slaughtered enemy prisoners by the thousands. Polanyi asserts that the king of Dahomey set fixed prices and exchange ranges into foreign currencies and the fixed rates succeeded in replacing prices set by supply and demand. For Polanyi this excused some of his other “minor” sins. Unfortunately for Polanyi, the historical record indicates that prices did fluctuate with supply and demand. 11 12 The free market was operating in traditional West Africa where the cost of transportation and deal making permitted it.
The connection between the new agrarian (food sovereignty) movement and Polanyi is indicated by Philip McMichael’s references. Dr. McMicheal is a prominent theoretician of the food sovereignty movement. A web search on Polanyi and via Campesina or food sovereignty will illustrate the connection.
Positions such as those of Polanyi indicate the fundamental contradiction in the New Agrarian movement. They want the benefits of modernity for rural peoples, but they reject the means by which those benefits are created.
Of course there is history which is closer to home. In 1983 there was a military revolution in Burkina which lead to a Marxist –Leninist government allied with the Soviet Union and Cuba. The current President, Blaise Campaore, took power in 1987 and turned the country against Marxist and back toward French patterns. Although Campaore himself is a Christian, he allied himself with Muammar Gaddafi and made himself something of a radical centrist. Burkina is remarkable for the degree to which its Muslim, Christian and animist communities are able to coexist peacefully. Campaore has become a semi authoritarian (think Vladimir Putin). He has centralized power, although the country is officially democratic and holds elections. He has controlled the electoral process to an extent that allows him to remain in control. In essence he has a pact with the people of Burkina which is similar to that between the Chinese Communist Party and the Government of China. He delivers internal peace and growth, and the people stay out of politics. Constitutionally this must come to an end in 2015 when President Campaore is prohibited from running for reelection. It will be interesting to see whether Campaore facilitates an open election, manages the election of someone from his own party, or puts someone in power who he expects to control.
In their opposition to the market-based and IMF supported growth which the government of President Campaore has managed since 2000, the food sovereignty movement in Burkina has inherited the mantle of the Marxist radicals of 1983-87. 13 They usually criticize the growth of markets as creating inequality, support the establishment of community organizations as alternatives to commercial growth, and criticize the lack of participation in establishing development policy, but are weak in their descriptions of how exactly what is going to replace the open market in a larger sense. In opposing commercial growth and proposing community organization as an alternative, they propose situations where economic growth is suboptimal, and the inequality of low incomes in Burkina with the developed world is perpetuated.
Anti-authoritarian supporters of social justice in the food sovereignty movement are certainly preferable to the revolutionary, violent, authoritarian Marxists of previous generations, but the polarization of those who conceive of social justice and community solidarity movements as being locked in an cultural battle with the forces of economic liberalism could lead to odd and unfortunate alliances between pacifists and revolutionaries of other stripes, as the fallout from the Arab spring as shown.
Remote History: Why are West African economies weakly developed?
Burkina is not one of those places with great mineral or oil wealth. It does export some gold. But the gold is not so concentrated as to make those involved very wealthy. Soils fertility is limited giving West Africa a disadvantage compared to some places like the American Mid-West or Southern Russia and Ukraine. The disease load of West Africa is substantial. Lack of natural resources can be overcome with Human resources and organization, but that has not yet occurred.
The association of many traditional West African Societies and their states with slavery was not only problematic from an ethical perspective, but also from a pragmatic one. In its Atlantic phase, the African slave trade, depopulated West Africa to the extent that its development appears not yet to have recovered. Exchange and market growth depend on transportation and communication. Transportation, exchange and government are relatively expensive where populations are sparse. The low population densities in West Africa discouraged modernization of both economic activity and government. 14 Burkina remains a small country with a population of only about 16 million people. The aridity of the area keeps population low and the cost of transportation and communication high.
The historical world came into contact with West Africa through the Mediterranean North Africa countries across the Sahara to the Sahel. The trade in gold, ivory and slaves had existed in ancient times, but increased substantially in the Islamic middle ages. The adoption of Islam in West Africa provided a step forward for West African societies. The fall of the Ghana Empire (about 400 to 1200 AD) may or may not have been used caused by Berbers from Marrakesh in the late 11th century, but Sahelian West African Territory was not ruled by the Berbers as Southern Iberia was ruled. The universalistic aspect of Islam helped cement the Malian Empire (about 1230 to 1600) and Songhai Empire (mid-15th to the late 16th century) together. African Islamic scholars including especially those trained in Timbuktu, provided religious law derived from the revelations of the Quran and Hadith. This Islamic legal culture was a moderating influence on the states that controlled the trade across the Sahara and along the Niger River.
Islamic traders also spread Islam into the forest zone along the coast. Islam provided skill sets for long distance trade within West Africa including information networks, contract law, and credit arrangements. Literate Muslims served as clerks in the communities in the forest zone, enabling governments and trade to operate more effectively.
Islam prohibits the enslavement of Moslems, but permits enslavement of the enemies of Islam. The slave trade was thus perpetuated along with the trade in gold and ivory for the Middle East and salt for West Africa.
Islam favored commerce, trade and urban society, but had a tendency to focus on sea and camel transport and neglect the wheel and roads. The territory of Burkina Faso, and the Mossi states which occupied it were not conquered by the Empires on the Niger because they are far from the Niger River and protected by their isolation. They remained independent in the 17th, 18th and much of the 19th century because they were far from the sea and the costal kingdoms that benefited from the Atlantic slave trade and the associated fire arms trade. Isolation protected the local Mossi kingdoms, but the lack of a road system and wheeled transportation slowed African development in general and Burkinabe development in particular. It also slowed the development of agriculture. Agricultural goods tend to have relatively low value to weight ratios, certainly compared to goods like ivory or gold. Slaves could walk. The most agricultural major component of West African trade was the cola nut. The commercialization of agriculture in West Africa was inhibited by high transportation costs in the same way that the development of government and public institutions was inhibited by high communication cost. Islamic civilization here, as elsewhere, neglected road building and thus its encouragement of development was limited.
Islam moderated the tendency to tribal warfare, but it failed to encourage the development of science. Although early Islam had a community of rationalists which was more advanced than those of medieval Europe, during and after the 13th century popular Islam took a mystical turn with the spread of Sufi brotherhood orders. The spread of Sufism included West Africa. This turn to mysticism was the polar opposite of the rationalist turn which was associated with the reintroduction of Aristotle into European thought which took place in the 13th century and lead to the renaissance and the emergence of modern science and the recognition of the value of the individual.
Finally Islamic culture focuses on justice and community rule of law, rather than on public accountability and the ability and rights of individuals to make choices, not only choices relating to what they wish to exchange in the market, but also the choice of government policies. In this sense Islamic culture has contributed a tendency for government to be conservative and communitarian.
This picture of Islam having both positive and negative effects in West Africa is consistent with culture having an influence in the course of both economic and political development. Culture does have an important impact on development, but it is a mistake to assume that it has been simply imposed by authorities in power past or that it should be imposed by them in the future. Culture has its own evolution. It is a mistake to take it too seriously as an impediment to development or as a guide for alternative general social constructions. When culture needs to change it is best to get to specifics.
The food sovereignty movement would like to impose a moral vision on society which has some similarities with the moral vision imposed on government by the medieval Islamic religious community, including the one in West Africa. It also has similarities to the moral vision imposed on India government by pre-modern Hindu religious communities. These religious communities prevented the development of states which would be strong enough to protect the rights of citizens to participate in them. 15 In practice the food sovereignty movement’s attachment to community moral influence is in conflict with its desire to promote grass root democratic participation, because that moral vision is generally hostile to strong government. Their vision of community moral limits on government has a tendency to leave government too weak to permit democratic participation and too weak to suppress those who would replaces accountable and legally limited government with authoritarians of one kind or another.
Jered Diamond would have us believe that Africa suffered because agricultural technology moved with difficulty North and South in Africa, while it moved more easily east and west in Eurasia. That idea is interesting and probably even partially valid , but too simplistic. Some assert that one of the major factors was that Africa was just smaller than Eurasia and with less people. Africa could not generate as many social experiments and did not have the time to create and select the particularly successful modern outliers. In this perspective African would have eventually developed some societies like Venice, Holland, and Britain given time, but before that could happen, global transportation put African in direct contact with modern Europe.
The question of why West Africa is less developed than Europe is simply the flip side of the question of why Europe developed more than the rest of the world. There is no simple answer. Enormous quantities of ink have been spilled addressing this question, and I will try to avoid consuming too much more.
Models of West African Development
I should comment on the major models of development. The early capital investment model of development proved to have limitations. In the 1960s and 1970s Africa received a lot of grants and loans which did not lead to economic growth. It is not so much the quantity of capital which promotes growth, but its allocation and productivity.
Extraction of surpluses from rural populations for industrial growth proved to have limited value for nations where agriculture was the dominant economic activity and resources did not proved an industrial alternative. The surpluses extracted with taxes were frequently misused by patrimonialist government elites to maintain their own power rather than reinvested in infrastructure. This is an old human failing, but one which must be overcome before government can be strong enough to be effective.
In the growth of the average incomes Africa has seen success of the policy of market liberalization, although this success will have some negative impacts also. Market liberalization proposes to make investment more efficient by putting it in the hands of private business where the government corruption and misuse will not be able to deflect it from productive use, and using international competition to select for local efficiency. Market liberalization can be taken too far because African governments generally need to grow to the point where they can provide better infrastructure and education. African governments sectors are not large by comparison to the size of government in Europe. In many cases their size is limited because they are not trusted by their tax payers.
The growth of representative rural institutions like CPF and its affiliated institutions is a good thing by comparison to the bad old days when development was the more or less exclusive province of foreign experts. One can question the policy choices that CPF recommends today, but the experience that those who are involved are gaining will be useful, if minds remain open to learn from that experience rather than closed by populist ideals and ideology.
The efficacy of models of innovation-based growth have been confirmed in West Africa, as elsewhere. New technology in agriculture, such as small scale irrigation and the use of fertilizer, has increase the productive potential of Burkinabe agriculture. New communications technology has improved the efficiency of Burkinabe commerce, including agricultural commerce. Examples are too numerous to list. This does not mean that new technology does not create problems or does not need to be regulated in some cases.
One development model which has had confirmed success is the human development model. Education and training have been confirmed to lead to improved economic activity. The contribution of new technology to economic growth in Africa has been well established, but environmental, infrastructure and political restrictions have inhibited Africa from having its green revolution. Thus the returns to training and education in cereal agriculture have been somewhat disappointing. Training and education have been important in the organization of Burkina Faso’s horticultural success. Trade in horticultural products requires management and coordination. This management and coordination is made possible by a certain level of education, communication and modern technology, especially relating to the use of cold storage and logistics.
AGRADIA and Seed Distribution
AGRADIA is an association of competing businessmen rather than a potentially benevolent but paternalistic and ineffective monopoly like SOPROFA.
It is in the area of training that models of development intersect the story of AGRADIA and CPF. AGRADIA is a trade association and what we would call in the US and industry lobbying group. They represent the interests of their business sector with the government. But they have also been the recipient of management and technical training sponsored by the Gates Foundation and the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, AGRA.
AGRA began with an understanding by agricultural specialists at the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations back in the 1980s and 1990s that African Agricultural development needed a different approach than the approach that had succeed in the Green Revolution in Asia, as well as recognition that the original green revolution had some problems relating to environmental and social impact. The association of AGRA with organizations like the Ford, Gates, and Rockefeller Foundations and their capitalist founders makes them suspect for the participants in the food sovereignty movement. They regard those involved in international trade and business with suspicion and think of them has involved in the global conspiracy to impose an alien and erroneous thought system.
AGRA supported the training of the staff of AGRADIA personnel in the management of their businesses and the customer support of the products they were selling. The decision of the Burkinabe government to contract with AGRADIA to manage the seed and fertilizer subsidies was particularly annoying to CPF because AGRADIA not only constituted the near enemy in their opposition to modern commercial agriculture, but also was associated with the far enemy of the fundamental supporters of economic liberalism.
Conclusion for seed industry growth:
Involvement of the rural public in the consideration of rural policy is a good thing. But in taking issues to the people, the leaders of the food sovereignty movement in organizations like the CPF seek to simplify issues to the point that the solutions which are best for the welfare of the farmers, seed customers, and food customers involved are excluded. Their brand of populism would impose a culture on society which fits their own moral vision, a vision which may not be perfectly clear.
One of the fundamental tenants of the food sovereignty movement is that the world food problem is one of distribution rather than one of production. A social justice world view assumes a focus on the equity of distribution. Promoters of social justice assert that rich people in the developed world eat too much meat, and their animals consume grains and money which should ethically be reserved for, and transferred to, poor communities. They propose reorganization of distribution as an alternative to growth of agricultural production through increasing the commercial productivity of agriculture via commercial interaction involving trade in inputs, seed and agricultural products. The mechanisms for this cultural transformation are conceived in ethical terms:
- Food is a right not a commodity; market exchange cannot determine the moral value of food
- Food producers must be properly valued; they will not be correctly compensated through the market
- Food production should be prioritized for local markets; international trade in food products is unethical because international exchanges are biased against the participants in the developing world because the exchanges to not correctly consider equity.
- Food systems must be democratically controlled by local organizations, and the only ethically valid form of democracy is participatory grass roots democracy where the influence of scientific and business experts can be avoided.
- The food system should build knowledge and skills, and the only valid forms of research and training are those which are under the control of local community representatives, as determined through direct participatory processes.
- The food system must work with not against nature, and must be perceived as natural by excluding certain symbols of the unnatural such as GMOs, regardless of the expert science involved. 16
The idea that markets can be moral because they respect the decisions of participants is alien within this perspective. The idea that the public can elect representatives to make some technical decisions for society is also alien. Because of the assumption of the need for cultural change, the existing democratic order in the developed world is suspect and the idea that African governments can make informed technical decisions for their people is also suspect. Both farmer choice of technology and Government acceptance of biotechnology based on scientific criterial are thus excluded.
At the base, the food sovereignty argument is that increasing world food production is unnecessary and the use of markets to increase food production is immoral. That makes participants in the modern seed industry both unnecessary and evil. Any compromise of community cultural, including religious, control in favor of market control over distribution of food is conceived of a moral lapse. It is in this moral conception of communitarianism that the food sovereignty movement differentiates itself from the now departed generations of scientific socialists.
The CPF would like the government of Burkina to trust them to distribute seed and fertilizer because their organizations have the moral right to represent the farmers of Burkina. AGRODIA represents market involvement in agriculture and seed.
We in the seed industry are right to question CPF’s grasp of the agricultural situation in Burkina and to question their ability to contribute to making it more productive and beneficial for the farmers involved. The CPFs conception of righteous behavior may not contribute to the well-being of the Burkinabe farmers involved, but the conflict between CPF and AGRODIA, or between the food sovereignty movement and commercial agriculture, is about a conflict between a particular conception of moral rectitude and the utility of productivity and prosperity. The righteous seek to rise above, purify and simplify the consideration of rural society and trade in food and in seed.
1 The Mossi are the predominant ethnic group in central Burkina
2 Refer to the famous 19th century Rothamsted Park Grass Experiments
5 Bassiaka Dao, President of the CPF, in « Semences Subventionnées Au Burkina : À qui profite le deal ? »
6 like Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana or Nehru in India
7 Not to be confused with his brother Michael Polanyi. Michael Polanyi was a chemist and a quite interesting philosopher of science.
8 Polanyi’s wife had been a revolutionary Marxist and was not welcome in the US.
9 Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation, 1944
10 Karl Polanyi, Dahomey and the Slave Trade: An Analysis of an Archaic Economy, University of Washington Press, 1966; and alsoAMS Press Inc. Reprint edition 1990.
11 Robin Law, Posthumous Questions for Karl Polanyi: Price Inflation in Pre-Colonial Dahomey, The Journal of African History, Vol. 33, No. 3 (1992), pp. 387-420
13 A succession of IMF Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers
14 Joseph E. Inikori, The development of Commercial Agriculture in Pre-Colonial West Africa, 2013
15 Francis Fukuyama, The Origins of Political Order. Profile Books, 2011
16 World Development Movement, Carving up a continent, April 2014
Seed Key Words:
Seed, Burkina Faso, seed industry, West Africa, food soveriegnty,ROPPA, Gates Foundation, AGRA, CPF, Confédération Paysanne du Faso, AGRODIA, l’Association des grossistes et détaillants d’intrants agricoles, economic liberalism.