Thursday, March 20, 2008

Development or impoverishment? The World Bank in Africa

"Beneath these entirely business-as-usual policies, there are starkly contradictory objectives: the humanitarian concerns of poverty alleviation clash with a Darwinian market fundamentalism. ‘Market fundamentalism’ is defined here as the unshakeable belief in the innate nature of the market as a prime mover of exchange and optimizer of production without regard for the political imbalances and social biases of markets as historical institutions. States are seen as potential concentrations of vested interests and power in stark contrast to markets as neutral forums of exchange.

Will African peasant farmers’ lot improve or decline further? The report has a casual way of not distinguishing the radically different policy needs of small as opposed to large-scale agriculture. In global agricultural commodity markets, African smallholder producers have been losing market share continually over the last three decades. Africa’s traditional export crops, the beverage crops: coffee, cocoa, tea, as well as cotton, tobacco, cashew, etc. have steadily declined to now quite negligible export levels. The comparative advantage that African smallholders held in these crops has been undermined by far more efficient producers elsewhere. There is no evidence provided to suggest that the broad masses of African small-scale peasant farmers will experience anything other than continuing difficulties in meeting the rigours of global commodity market chains with their highly regulated standards and time schedules.

At present hundreds of millions of African peasant smallholders are not competing successfully in global commodity markets. The World Bank adopts a matter-of-fact position that they will relinquish their autonomy as agricultural producers and work as contract farmers or wage labours in large-scale agribusiness or alternatively leave agriculture to seek their livelihood elsewhere. Their sanguine attitude towards peasant labour redundancy does not tally with their professed concern for the African rural poor. Beneath the WDR 2008’s public relations spin about poverty alleviation, they are conferring carte blanche support to a ‘survival of the fittest’ economic trajectory in which the grossly imbalanced commercial interests of large-scale OECD subsidized farmers, supermarket chains and agribusiness have full scope to compete against unsubsidized peasant farmers engaged in rural ways of life that that have managed hitherto to endure for millennia."

From an excellent article on the World Bank's Development Report of 2008 on Agriculture, by:

Kjell Havnevik, Senior Researcher with the Nordic Africa Institute, Uppsala
Deborah Fahy Bryceson, Research Associate at the African Studies Centre, Oxford University
Atakilte Beyene, PhD in Development Studies, affiliated with The Stockholm Environment
Institute, Stockholm, Sweden
Prosper Matondi, Centre for Rural Development, University of Zimbabwe

The website on which the article is posted, Pambazuka News, is also great, check it out. (Thanks Daniel)

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