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African Agriculture and its Relation to Development

Written by Siyaduma Biniza* The role of agriculture in Africas development is a highly contested yet central issue in development studies. On the one hand agriculture has the potential indispensable contributions towards development; whereas on the other hand this potential has not been realised in Africa. Proponents of the indispensable role that the agricultural sector can play in Africas development usually point to its significance in gross domestic production, its high labour absorption and its greater capital efficiency when contrasted with other sectors such as manufacturing (Hazell, 2006; Asche & Hoeffler, 2011). In addition agriculture is said to have additive developmental benefits due to a multiplier effects because effective increases in agricultural production improve food security, poverty alleviation, health and general productivity (Hoeffler, 2011). Moreover, increased agricultural output is linked to economic growth because it: increases competitiveness by creating cheaper food at lower wages, allows for reallocation of foreign exchange that otherwise would have been used for food imports towards investment, and allows for increased capital which can be used for industrial and rural development (Hazell, 2006). Therefore there is a strong case for the linkages between development and agriculture. However the developmental potential of agriculture in Africa has not been fully realised due to contradictory economic and social circumstances internationally and nationally. This is why scholars and development researchers often speak about waking up Africas sleeping giant when they refer to agriculture because there is a need to realise the development potential of agriculture in Africa (Binswanger-Mkhize et al., 2011). This has either led to pessimistic analysis that focuses on the negative outcomes

which overlooks some of the relative gains; or an optimism that overlooks the obstacles challenging the developmental potential of agriculture in Africa. Nevertheless, as I will argue in this essay, there has been a great deal of variation in the context of agriculture and developmental outcomes across the continent. This variation is causally related to the economic and political economy circumstances in Africa which are a result of the colonial legacy, contemporary changes in global capitalism and the influence of external international factors in the political economy of agricultural policy-making. Thus the economic circumstances have led to uneven development and inequality; whilst the political context has led to dialectical and very precarious circumstances for development. So this essay investigates the extent to which the economic and social context of agriculture holds back development in Africa. This paper is divided into three sections that analyse this situation according to the economic and political economy context in agriculture and its relation to development. The first section deals with the effects of the legacy of colonialism and contemporary changes in global capitalism on agriculture and development. The second section deals with the dialectical and precarious outcomes of the political economy of agricultural policies in relation to development. Lastly, the paper examines the consequence of these economic and social contexts in agriculture for development.

Can We Analyse the African Circumstances in Agriculture? Variation and unevenness is the most striking feature of any analysis of agriculture and development in Africa. There are stark differences in the agricultural ecologies, markets, political economies and cultures (Freund, 2010). Moreover, there is a great variation in

the economic, social and political context of the outcomes being analysed which makes it difficult to generalise at the continental level of synthesis (Hrsmar, 2006). This leads to a theoretical dilemma which needs to be well understood and dealt with before successful analysis is possible. The dilemma is that this variation can hinder analysis because we may be grouping incomparable objects of analysis; making the analysis invalid. Or our analysis might be compromised by the wide variation in countries; making a unitary analysis impractical. However, I reject the first branch of the dilemma described above. Therefore, this paper takes it that, even though there is considerable variation between the objects of analysis in this continental analysis of agriculture in Africa, it certainly is not the case that the countries being analysed are incomparable. Besides, the variation only serves as suitable grounds for contrasting and comparison which is integral to any kind of analysis. Thus the variation amongst African countries does not invalidate this analysis. Instead the variation enriches the analysis since it exposes the consequences of the legacy of colonialism, contemporary changes in global capitalism and political economy conditions; which have led to uneven development, inequality, dialectical and precarious developmental outcomes. This means that the variation in agriculture and development within and amongst African countries can be traced to economic and social circumstances in each country; which are a result of the colonial legacy, global capitalism and political economy conditions in the agricultural sectors.

Effects of the Colonial Legacy and Global Capitalism on Agriculture and Development The legacy of colonialism has led to uneven development both amongst and within African countries; whereas the contemporary changes in global capitalism challenge the traditional core-periphery relations but perpetuate this situation. In other words,

legacy of colonialism has resulted in uneven development amongst African countries and between African countries and former colonisers. However the complexity of structural shifts in the global economy, due to contemporary changes in capitalist means of production and capital liberalisation, mean that absolute benefits do not accrue to core countries or former colonial powers exclusively (Leys, 1996; Freund, 2010). But this is not to say that core states are not in any advantageous position. Instead the assertion here is that there is relative gains difference and inequality in the international context because of uneven development as a result of colonialism and the advances of global capitalism. Since colonialism was largely motivated by economic-driven exploitation of raw materials to catalyse the expansion of capitalism and the European industrialism; most of the colonies were forced to grow one or two cash crops which resulted in neglecting food production and import-substitution (Boahen, 1987; Bryceson, 1999). Economic expansion and infrastructural development was made to facilitate the exploitation and extraction of natural resources for the sole benefit of colonial powers without consideration of the developmental needs of the colonies. Industrialisation and development of colonies was completely neglected except in cases where this was done for the expedient of European industrialism or to sustain settler colonial communities (Boahen, 1987). Furthermore, the monetary policies in the colonies created deeply entrenched economic imperialism by encouraging all expatriate companies and banks to repatriate surplus capital to metropolitan countries instead of reinvesting in the colonies (Boahen, 1987). Thus, the concentration of cash crops and exploitation of raw materials neglected the internal economy of colonies, especially in the production of food for domestic consumption, resulting in heavy reliance on imports from the metropolitan states leading to the demise of inter-African trade

(Boahen, 1987). Therefore the legacy of colonialism has been uneven development, and underdevelopment, both internationally and within African countries. However, this kind dependency-theory-type of situation, which is a legacy of colonialism, is challenged by contemporary changes in global capitalism even though these changes perpetuate global inequality and uneven development (Freund, 2010). Contemporary changes in global capitalism in the form of contractual means of production or outsourcing have led to structural changes in the global economy. Firms that are predominantly in the emerging markets are contracted to do production, instead of the traditional form of acquiring inputs and means of production, which has resulted in a shift in the relative power between core and periphery states by affording greater integration of peripheral countries in the global economy (Gibbon, 2002). This has led to the global significance of peripheral countries like Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa which may no longer fit the tradition description of peripheral countries. Moreover, these contemporary changes in global capitalism offer an opportunity for greater integration of Africa in the global economy (Gibbon, 2002). However, these changes have only served to perpetuate uneven development and inequality in the international context; even though they challenge the traditional notion of core and periphery. Although there have been some structural changes the reality is only relatively different from the colonial period. Agricultural production is still predominantly geared towards export and surplus capital gained by foreign capital is not reinvested within the economies where production originates (Leys, 1996). The consequence of this has been uneven agricultural and socioeconomic development in Africa. Moreover the contemporary changes in global capitalist production means that import-substitution

industrialisation is no longer a growth strategy because efficient production for export is the preferred strategy (Leys, 1996). The contemporary changes in global capitalism have also had a significant influence in the macroeconomic policies and market structuring of African countries. There is an overemphasis on efficient production for export which favours large corporations at the expense of small holder farmers and domestic food production. The neoliberal economics of the Washington Consensus era have diminished the role of the state in favour of liberalisation and production for export. Consequently state subsidies for agricultural production have been rescinded and tariffs, which were a revenue stream for governments, have been reduced which greatly affects agricultural and socioeconomic development (Leys, 1996; Bryceson, 1999). This leaves many smallholder farmers without the state support they needed. Therefore, contemporary changes in global capitalism have also contributed to uneven agriculture and development. However, large-scale farmers who can survive without government subsidies have been able to exploit the situation of better access to foreign markets (Oya, 2010). For example, in agricultural production of fresh vegetables a few African corporations have benefitted greatly from having access to foreign markets for exports although marketshare and survivability of smallholder farmers is increasingly diminishing due to the challenging uneven environment (Bryceson, 1999; Gibbon, 2002; Binswanger-Mkhize et al., 2011). Thus although production has increased for export this has been at the expense of smaller farmers resulting in increased inequality and uneven development. The legacy of colonialism has led to uneven development both globally and within African countries and contemporary changes in global capitalism perpetuates this

situation. Therefore, because of the advances of global capitalism winners and losers are chosen in an uneven environment with rules which, although creating opportunities, end up perpetuating inequality and uneven development. Thus the outcome of legacy or colonialism and the contemporary change in capitalism has been uneven agricultural and socioeconomic development in Africa. More importantly, the legacy of colonialism and the contemporary changes in global capitalism have constrained transformation and equitable redistribution of developmental gains in agriculture. So how have African states responded to this situation?

Dialectical and Precarious Outcomes of the Political Economy of Agricultural Policies The political economy of agricultural policy is significant influences by external international factors which constrain the scope and ability of African states to deal with uneven development and inequality through policies. In the first instance, the focus of agricultural policy and its potential in redressing internal inequality and uneven development is constrained by the objects it is concerned with (Leys, 1996; Oya, 2010). Therefore, an over-preoccupation with neoliberal policies, wage efficiency and diminishing the role of the state has taken precedence over transformative agricultural policies (Oya, 2010). Policies that can alter the circumstances of uneven development and inequality through re-agrarianisation and land-reform are undermined by the dominance of neoliberal macroeconomic concerns due to foreign capital and donor organisation demands on African governments (Leys, 1996). The potentially vital role that states can play to ensure that agriculture attains its developmental potential has been constrained because African states are not concerned with the necessary kind of policy instruments that can redress the situation of uneven development and inequality.

States have an important role to play in ensuring that the agriculture sectors developmental potential is realised. As discussed earlier, in the context of predominant neoliberalism, states have greatly diminished their contribution in terms of agricultural subsidies and other provision vital to agriculture which has been detrimental to smallholder farmers (Bryceson, 1999). Besides, even in a context where large-scale farmers can survive, farmers require transportation and storage infrastructure provisions from the state which neoliberal policies do not permit (Freund, 2010) because of the preoccupation with fiscal austerity and trade liberalisation. In other words African states policies are strongly influenced by what foreign capital deems necessary for development which is often neglects the needs of smallholder farmers, is based on bad information and unwise analysis (Leys, 1996; Asche & Hoeffler, 2011). Instead of policy action aimed at redressing the developmental challenges that result from uneven development and inequality, the preoccupation has been on macroeconomic stability through price stability and trade liberal. The scope of policies available to African states has been significantly constrained by external international factors. Thus African states have had to struggle with consolidating the contradictory needs of donor organisation, advances in global capitalism and domestic development (Oya, 2010). In the second instance, the influence of multilateral rules such as those determined at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and international financial institutions have restrained the policy actions available to states. Compliance with multilateral trading rules, such as the sanitary and phytosanitary standards (SPS) which dictate the acceptable practices in agro-processing, is a significant constraint to expanding African agricultural trade with developed economies (Gibbon, 2002). Implementation costs related to SPS compliance are unjustifiable in terms of the value of future trade and

they are a major barrier to entry (Gibbon, 2002). Therefore there is a bias in multilateral rules compliance that does not favour African agriculture. Moreover the dominant role of multilateral rules as a precursor for aid and compliance with trade rules also diminishes the power of states through legislative constraints, reductions in revenues drawn from tariffs, inability to develop infant industries through protectionism and inability to subsidise domestic farmers as a result of these constraints (Oya, 2010). On the other hand, neoliberal policies in the form of structural adjustment programmes resulted in de-agrarianisation, a steady decline in Africas share of global agricultural trade and increases in food imports (Bryceson, 1999). Therefore the ability of states in directing the developmental trajectory of the agricultural sector is constrained by disabling costs of compliance to multilateral rules. Consequently the compliance with international rules is comes at a great cost for African states making it impractical to redress internal challenges of uneven development and inequality. These external international factors in the political economy of agricultural policies constrain the developmental potential of agricultural policies and diminish the developmental contribution of agriculture. Nevertheless market access afforded to African producers through the WTO rules creates opportunities that can redress the situation of uneven gains accruing to dominant countries and inequality (Gibbon, 2002). Economies that had previous been protected through trade barriers are now available for African producers to export to which effectively increases the relative gains in favour of African countries. These rules also improve the inclusion of African producers in international trade and integrate agriculture into global capitalism in areas where African producers are competitive (Gibbon, 2002). This also helps to improve agriculture in Africa so that it can meet the demands of global capitalism and the global economy instead of agrarian demands of

small domestic economies (Binswanger-Mkhize et al., 2011). However, as previous discussed this situation would favour large-scale farmers who can survive under competitive conditions without state support. Thus, the opportunities that arise from some of the WTO rules are insufficient for dealing with uneven development and inequality. But this is not to say that African agriculture is set in uneven development and inequality forever. There are opportunities, even though precarious, which can be exploited for the development. For example, as African agriculture develops in favour of large-scale farmers and commercialisation the process can only be sustained through private investment in infrastructure and services to promote further commercialisation which eases the burden on governments (Binswanger-Mkhize et al., 2011). This would free-up resources that can be reallocated towards supporting smallholder farmers. But this cannot occur without strong political will to transform agriculture (Binswanger-Mkhize et al., 2011). The extent to which large-scale agriculture puts a burden on African governments is also questionable considering the dominance of neoliberal macroeconomic policies and donor organisations. Nevertheless, as largescale agriculture develops with a preference for export markets a gap within the domestic economies would arise. This gives smallholder farmers an opportunity if the states are driven by strong political will to redress the bias against smallholder farmers. The state would have to support smallholder farmers by expanding state support so that they can produce for the domestic economy. So agriculture is not doomed to be burdened by inequality for perpetuity but the situation is very precarious. Consequently outcomes of the political economy of agricultural policy-making are dialectical and precarious. The political economy in agricultural policies restrains the transformative role that states can play in dealing with domestic developmental

concerns such as land-reform and re-agrarianisation. Yet, on the other hand, opportunities that improve integration of African agricultural sectors into the global economy relatively redress the historic gains disadvantage of Africa countries. Thus, the political economy of agriculture policy results in precarious and dialectical outcomes for development. Moreover, the opportunities that arise from the policy environment are insufficient even though they are necessary for dealing with uneven development and inequality (Binswanger-Mkhize et al., 2011). This necessitates a more significant role by the state in order to address the challenges of uneven development and inequality.

Conclusions: Consequences for Development There is a strong case for the linkages between development and agriculture. However the developmental potential of agriculture in Africa has not been fully realised due to contradictory economic and social circumstances internationally and nationally. These contradictions are causally related to the economic and political economy circumstances in Africa which are a result of the colonial legacy, contemporary changes in global capitalism and the influence of external international factors in the political economy of agricultural policy-making. Thus the economic circumstances have led to uneven development and inequality; whilst the political context has led to dialectical and very precarious circumstances for development. So redressing economic and political conditions is prerequisite to ensuring that African states can reverse the circumstances in agriculture that hold back development. But this depends on the collaboration between dominant economic and political classes (Leys, 1996). Hence the precarious and dialectical developmental outcomes in agriculture are a sign of the co-ordination challenges between markets and

governance. African states are constantly struggling with consolidating the contradictory needs of donor organisation, advances in global capitalism and domestic development. Thus uneven development and inequality is a persistent challenge that needs to be dealt with through effective policy that can only be discovered through trial and error. Furthermore states need to establish mutually-beneficial partnerships with private capital interests. This is necessary to promote development in order to overcome precarious and dialectical outcomes that result from current political economy conditions in agricultural policy-making. Collaboration between these classes is important because the conflict or alignment of their interests determines the trajectory of development. This calls for effectiveness of the state and willingness to experiment with policy innovations. However this is not to say that civil society is negligible. Agriculture is important for development in Africa primarily because of the predominantly rural nature of African populations (Freund, 2010). Therefore, understanding demographic and civil society characteristics of Africa is very important for ensuring that agriculture can be conducive to development. In this regard, development of African states has been characterised by large de-agrarianisation and de-peasantisation (Bryceson, 1999). In other words the rural-urban distinction and composition of household economies is changing which creates both opportunities and challenges (Freund, 2010). The challenges arise from a continuation of the current context in agriculture which favours large-scale production geared at export markets. However, a structural shift from cashcrop production towards food crop production creates a real opportunity given the rise in urbanisation and food demand in African cities (Freund, 2010). Hence there is a gap in the domestic economy given the export orientation of large-scale farmers and diminishing number of operating smallholder farmers.

Under these circumstances over-emphasis on high value agricultural exports will not create sustainable development and economic growth. This calls for policies that can deal with the uneven development and inequality through re-agrarianisation (Bryceson, 1999). A situation where policies create a bias in favour of export markets and large-scale farmer will leave domestic demand un-catered for. This means that large-scale export-orientated agricultural production is unsustainable. Thus, there is a need for re-agrarianisation to ensure sustainable growth and equitable distribution of growth and development. Consequently the current economic and social context of agriculture in Africa holds back development through uneven development, inequality, dialectical and precarious outcomes. Nevertheless, there are real opportunities that need to be seized. With the right kind of policy incentives to redress uneven development and inequality agriculture can attain its developmental potential. This necessitates a more significant role by the state in order to address the challenges of uneven development and inequality. Moreover this cannot happen without consolidation of the interests of private and foreign capital and developmental interests; which requires collaboration a between private and public capital.

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* Siyaduma Biniza is currently a B.Com. (Hon) in Development Theory and Policy student at the University of the Witwatersrand, holding a B.Soc.Sci in Politics, Philosophy and Economics from the University of Cape Town.