Short-term solutions: the curse of the West African agricultural sector

West African agricultural sector
West African agricultural sector
The promotion of agricultural productivity in the Sahel region is crucial for the reduction of chronic food insecurity, for the increase of food quantity and quality, for the stimulation of economic growth, and for the strengthening of the resistance of the population. But governments in the region continue to spend too little money on the agricultural sector and international donors prefer time-limited solutions.

In the last 5 years, there has been a renewed interest in investing in agriculture in West African countries. This is partly due to the rise in food prices, which peaked in 2008 and have remained high ever since. The states understood that they had to provide more of their own need on their own. But, despite this, the agricultural sector in the Sahel countries remains underfunded to this day. In 2009 the 15 members of the Economic Community of West African States renewed the 2003 Maputo pledge in which they pledged to invest at least 10% of the national budget in agriculture. But in 2013, on the 10th anniversary of that agreement, only 10 of the 54 African countries achieved that goal. For example, in Senegal, where agriculture guarantees almost 14% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and employs more than two-thirds of the active population, the government has spent exactly 4.7% of its 2012 budget on agriculture, according to NGO Action Aid. Despite the fact that the poor can derive double benefit from the growth of small-scale agriculture compared to the growth of other sectors, support for African agriculture fell in 2006 by 77%. Only in 2008, when food prices peaked, did the growing awareness in West African countries that they were too dependent on imported basic grains.

Eric Hazard, manager of Oxfam's GROW campaign, explains: "Many countries then realized that this was not a solid solution. Since then they have said that if we want to feed ourselves and increase our food security, we need a minimum. In order to achieve this, we must invest in agriculture, and since then agriculture has reappeared on the agenda, and in countries that reach the target of 10% of GDP, such as Nigeria and Burkina Faso, the quality of investment remains problematic. When it is stated that 17% of the BEP goes to agriculture, but in fact, only 65 to 70% of it goes to the farmers and the rest to the expenses of the ministry itself, the promised 10% is not reached ".

In favor of the poor

Investment in small-scale farmers is even more important because it not only contributes to food production estimated at 80% of the African continent but also to the quality of life of the farmers who belong to the most vulnerable and food-insecure people of the West African region. "In most West African countries the majority of the population lives in rural areas, where agriculture is the most important livelihood," said Mireille Totbesola Barbier, regional technical adviser on agriculture at the Catholic Relief Services (CRS). . But lack of means of production, limited accessibility to finance and limited knowledge of improved production techniques and market research skills create an impediment to the growth of the sector. In the Sahel countries, projects to stimulate agricultural production are severely hampered by the returning periods of drought. The post-crisis recovery, like the one in 2008, can take 3 to 4 years, provided those years know favorable weather conditions? According to Patrick David, regional head of the Food and Agriculture Organization (NAO) of the United Nations, there is a growing erosion of the livelihoods of farmers in the Sahel countries. When a crop fails small-scale farmers are forced to sell the few animals they own, they take their children out of school, they become more and more involved in debt, they run out of seed stock, food security declines and ultimately they are even weaker when they are faced with an upcoming crisis. This is the cycle of impoverishment in the Sahel countries.

Aid organizations

The lack of or the mismanaged government money intensifies the pressure on aid organizations to secure grants. That is a difficult matter anyway. Donors often prefer to donate in an emergency. Long-term development projects, the results of which are not immediately visible, are less popular. In 2012, in the midst of the food crisis in the Sahel countries, the NAO wanted $ 122 million in aid to regional agriculture, but they received only 48% of the requested fund. Many activities have suffered as a result, for example, the distribution of seeds, the projects of conservation of soil and water, the vaccination of animals, the supply of animal feed, and so on. In 2013 NAO received just 23% of the requested fund to support agriculture in the Sahel countries. This underfunding painfully affects small-scale farmers, because often they can no longer buy the necessary means of production such as seeds and fertilizers and they do not have access to credit. Lack of investment attacks their productivity in general but increases their vulnerability during times of crisis and their dependence on external food aid. Food aid in the Sahel is based on three major pillars. First, the United Nations assists families in setting up ‘bazaar’ gardens during the dry season. These are small plots of land on which various vegetables, fruits, flowers, and commercial crops are grown, products that can be sold directly on the local bazaars. Second, the NAO supports the planting of rain-dependent crops during the rainy season from July to September. And finally, the organization assists families in the cultivation of specific crops as the water recedes from the flooded plains from August to December. The little money at the disposal of NAO in 2013 meant that considerably less was done for the small-scale farmers.

What is needed

how to preserve the good grains for reseeding, & c. But despite these and other successes, donors are still hesitant to finance small-scale agriculture, in favor of crisis relief, but also in favor of large-scale agriculture. "

“Small-scale farmers are considered uncompetitive compared to large-scale producers because they do not have the material, the technology, the necessary resources,” says Isabella Mballa of the United Nations World Food Program. "Many believe that small-scale farmers are not able to produce quality products in sufficient quantity. But when they get some help, they too can be successful. Being a small-scale farmer does not mean you cannot be productive and cannot make money," according to Mballa.

Machines

According to Crosby a change of the agricultural policy in the direction of mechanized agriculture and agricultural credits is necessary. Small-scale farmers rarely have tractors and other machines and manual labor has of course its limitations. But without credit, it is not possible to buy machines. There are a bunch of microfinance systems, but these have most often an interest rate of 14 to 30%. According to these rates, it is impossible for small-scale farmers to earn enough money to repay the capital plus interest during the usual 6-month loan period, so it is completely impossible to make a profit. In addition, many of these microfinance systems target large-scale urban producers. Lenders namely know very well that the return of money lent to small-scale farmers depends entirely on uncontrollable factors such as the weather.

Africa is rich - in powerful mineral wealth, educated workers, thriving start-ups, and biodiversity.

The African peoples should prosper and the African economies should flourish. However, a large number of people in the 47 African countries live in poverty, while much of the wealth is taken away from the continent by entrepreneurs from the rest of the world. More especially the western and industrialized landen pull more out of Africa than the input. At the same time, they impose economic models that feed poverty and inequality.

In 2015, African countries received 144.5 billion euros, mainly in loans, grants from foreign families, and financial assistance. At the same time, 181.3 billion euros are being transferred from Africa. In fact, African countries are not lending to the rest of the world, in 2015 a total of 37 billion euros.

African countries have received about 17 billion euros in financial aid, but capital flight, especially by multinational corporations that deliberately misrepresent the value of their imports and exports to pay fewer taxes, is three times higher (60.7 billion). euros). While Africans receive 27.7 billion euros in personal foreign grants (eg from foreign family members), multinational companies operating on the continent transfer an equivalent amount (28.6 billion euros) a year to their home countries. In 2015 African governments received 29.3 billion euros as a loan, but repaid as interest only on existing debts 16.1 billion euros. Meanwhile, the overall debt load is growing at lightning speed. An estimated 25.9 billion euros have been stolen from Africa through illegal logging, fishing, and trade in animals and plants. There are also the indirect costs that the rest of the world demands of Africa, such as the costs the continent has to pay to adapt to climate change, costs that rise to 9.5 billion euros a year, or limiting climate change, such as reorienting to carbon poor. an African economy whose annual costs are even higher (23.2 billion euros). These costs can be added to the money that is taken away from Africa because they involve spending - that is, a loss of funds - to counter processes for which the continent has historically not been responsible.

What help?

development aid programs that are, using the least severe expression, misleading. Those countries When the governments of the rich countries claim that they are helping Africa with theirs they should seriously reconsider their role as at the moment they are causing a lot of damage. First, billions are stolen by African citizens because too little is being done worldwide to prevent tax evasion and avoidance. Wealthy countries do little or nothing to curb the financially gross practices of their multinational corporations that are active in Africa. Development aid should be redefined or development aid should be redefined as ‘reparation’ for the relentless deprivation of wealth and other damage caused by rich countries. The extent of these reparations should be determined on the basis of the actual damage and not set arbitrarily by the wealthy governments ‘out of kindness’. Western industrialized countries wrongly gain the reputation of benefactors who distribute their wealth to poor African countries in the form of development aid. 

The opposite is true. The current takeover of wealth from a poor to a rich world is also the continuation of the historical trend that dates back to the colonial era. Sociologist Hamza Alavi estimates the flow of wealth from India to Britain between 1793 and 1803 at about 2 million a year, the equivalent of many billions today. The British theologian Robert Beckford made a rough estimate of the wealth that the British took away from African countries thanks to the slave trade and he reached an astronomical sum of 7.5 billion British pounds. The current takeover of wealth from a poor to a rich world is also the continuation of the historical trend that dates back to the colonial era. Sociologist Hamza Alavi estimates the flow of wealth from India to Britain between 1793 and 1803 at about 2 million a year, the equivalent of many billions today. The British theologian Robert Beckford made a rough estimate of the wealth that the British took away from African countries thanks to the slave trade and he reached an astronomical sum of 7.5 billion British pounds. The current takeover of wealth from a poor to a rich world is also the continuation of the historical trend that dates back to the colonial era. Sociologist Hamza Alavi estimates the flow of wealth from India to Britain between 1793 and 1803 at about 2 million a year, the equivalent of many billions today. The British theologian Robert Beckford made a rough estimate of the wealth that the British took away from African countries thanks to the slave trade and he reached an astronomical sum of 7.5 billion British pounds.

Theft

African multinationals produce wealth in the same way as their opponents from the global North. The 500 largest African companies declared in 2014 a joint debt of 623 billion euros. In 2015, the African country exported 207 billion euros in minerals and oil to the rest of the world. The value of the mineral supply in the African soil is of course still many times greater. South Africa's mineral wealth alone is estimated at 2.2 billion euros. The value of the undiscovered mineral supplies of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is estimated at 21.4 billion euros. The majority of Africans do not benefit from this. The current way of exploitation leads even to poverty. When multinational companies export raw materials such as minerals, the governments, therefore, charge little taxes. In important sectors such as mining and the fossil fuel industry, companies often receive additional tax benefits, which means that the total amount of taxes paid is even lower. In addition, it is easy for the companies concerned to avoid paying taxes. Through tax planning and the use of tax havens, they make tax avoidance. The fiscal policy of many African countries is, not surprisingly, the result of a long-standing strategy by Western governments to insist on low taxes to attract foreign investment.

Money flows out of Africa because the continent's natural wealth is simply the property of and/or exploited by foreign private enterprises. Only in a minority of foreign investments do the African authorities have a shareholding. In this case, it is often a small stake, mostly between 5 and 20% of the shares. A recent War on Want report states that 101 companies, listed on the London Stock Exchange, are involved in the extraction of only 5 African natural resources, namely oil, gold, diamond, coal, and platinum. These 101 companies are active in 37 African countries. 59 of them are registered in Britain and 25 others in tax havens such as the British Virgin Islands, Guernsey, and Jersey. The 60.7 billion euros that are extracted annually from Africa, in the form of illegal financial flows (capital flight), means 6.1% of the Gross National Product (GNP) of the entire continent.

The African population is effectively being robbed by a process that greatly enriches a small minority of Africans due to the fact that it enables wealth to flow out of Africa. 165,000 people in Africa together own 767.7 billion euros. In 2016, 24 billionaires lived there with a collective wealth of 74.4 billion euros. Where did these people place their wealth? In the usual secret places where taxes are low as in the English Channel, Switzerland, and Britain. A study by the London School of Economics estimated that wealthy Africans in 2014 hid no less than 446 billion euros in foreign tax havens. That is 30% of all African financial wealth. The fact that this wealth is not taxed means that the African elite has stolen and are thus stealing billions of dollars from their own population.

However, the African governments could have good use of that money because the misery on the continent is under-reported and always continues to grow. The most frequently cited figures are those of the World Bank: the number of 'extremely poor' people in Africa has risen from 284 million in 1990 to 388 million today (the percentage in the same period, however, has fallen from 56% to 46%). The World Bank defines ‘extreme poverty however as individuals who have to live on the US $ 1.90 a day or less. This is of course misleading because someone who lives on $ 2 a day is obviously also extremely poor, but is no longer noted in the statistics. Poverty limits are therefore always inaccurate and slightly arbitrary. If the poverty line were set a little higher, for example at $ 3.10 a day, we would have 670 million extremely poor people in Africa. Other international institutions estimate the number of poor people significantly higher than the World Bank. The African Development Bank estimated that about 82% of Africans in 2011 lived on the US $ 4 or less a day. That would affect more than 800 million people. The fact that African poverty is so overwhelming and still expanding proves the urgency of the abolition of the current system that robs wealth from Africa. The world elites have of course no essential interest in changing a system that benefits them. Action and opposition from civil society, and throughout the South and the entire North, is the only hope The fact that African poverty is so overwhelming and still expanding proves the urgency of the abolition of the current system that robs wealth from Africa. The world elites have of course no essential interest in changing a system that benefits them. Action and opposition from civil society, and throughout the South and the entire North, is the only hope The fact that African poverty is so overwhelming and still expanding proves the urgency of the abolition of the current system that robs wealth from Africa. The world elites have of course no essential interest in changing a system that benefits them. Action and opposition from civil society, and throughout the South and the entire North, is the only hope.

Conclusion

Financial development programs that force privatization in important sectors (such as public services) and that mandate free trade and investment as a condition for providing aid, reinforce a process by which the world benefits far more from African wealth than the continent’s population. Development aid only brings benefits to the African when it is disconnected from the Western business interests and is based on the real needs of the continent.

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