New Agriculturist

Vikash Tandon

Pioneer Agricultural Exchange (PAEX) Ltd, Uganda

Vikash Tandon
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Perspective

Organic Food and Development Aid

According to seasoned political activists in sub-Saharan Africa, the current phase of private corporate globalization of investment, trade and cultural life-forms has its roots in English soil where the gradual transformation of rural lifestyles into modern capitalist farmers and agricultural day-labourers created the foundations of modern capitalism as long ago as the sixteenth century. Many moons have passed between the sixteenth century in England and the current millennium in sub-Saharan Africa but the incessant drive of international corporate capital to overcome all barriers to its own preservation has remained intact, and all historic and contemporary attempts to humanize capital has remained a pipe dream. In the current, intensive phase of globalization, led by bankers and mega-corporations, the capacity of nation states in sub-Saharan Africa to implement a self-reliant developmental strategy has also been proved to be a pipe dream.

The late German philosopher, Theodor Adorno, once remarked that the need for philosophy lives on because the moment to realize it is always missed. From the point of view of the peasants and small scale farmers, Development Aid lives on because the moment to effectuate it will always be missed.

Most ministries of "development" in the West think that they know best what is good for the rest. Many of them REALLY do believe that globalization and liberalization are good for the developing countries; that the obstacles to investment are poor governance and corruption; that if aid can be tied to good governance, the developing countries would be on their way to "growth" which would trickle down to the poor. Here, then, is the West's answer to the Poverty problem that is a blight on their history and conscience. Admittedly, there are partial truths in all these. But only partial. The bigger truth is that the developing countries are suffering from two major problems: one is the debt overhang and the second is the fundamental asymmetry of trade relations.

A cursory glance at official statistics shows that since 1996 development aid has increased. But what do these figures signify in the real world of rural communities in Uganda of 2000 AD? Answer: absolutely nothing! According to macroeconomic data, Uganda in the 1990s is an economic success story. However, most people in the country, and almost all the poorest, depend on smallholder agriculture for their livelihoods. The national accounts show that Uganda's 'high growth' has been driven disproportionately by growth in non-agricultural sectors and surveys conducted by PAEX Ltd has shown that little or none of this growth has benefited poor farming households. The UNDP, in its annual reports, is obliged to repeat its annual observation that, "the benefits of strong growth have yet to translate into measurable improvements in the standards of living for the majority of people." (UNDP, 1997-2000)

A good example of this western expert-driven rationalization of ongoing practises in rural 'development' is a recent study undertaken by the Institute of Development Studies called Horticultural Commodity Chains: The Impact of the UK market on African Fresh Vegetable Industry. (Catherine Dolan et el 1999). Having demonstrated that the supply of fresh vegetables and fruit from Kenya and Zimbabwe is controlled by commodity chains that bind the buyers (supermarkets), the producers (large commercial farmers), and the exporters/importers in symbiotic relationships, the authors seem to argue that this is a successful model for rural livelihood strategies for African producers. The study also acknowledges that the small to medium scale farmer in Kenya and Zimbabwe has been completely marginalized by the globalized food production/supply and consumption/demand chains that satisfy western consumers' culinary desires. While admitting that the top five exporters in sub-Saharan Africa control over 75 % of all fresh vegetables that end up in the UK, the study nevertheless argues that,

"One of the few remaining exceptions to this tendency to concentration may be organic produce. At present, there is a significant unmet demand for organic produce, which offers attractive margins and considerable scope for expansion. While the amount of organic produce has increased tremendously in the last year, the supply base in the UK is still very fragmented, which leaves the supermarkets little option but to source from several smaller companies. This means that smaller African exporters still have an opportunity to penetrate this market, which is thus far not characterized by the demands of scale and investment characteristics of exotic produce lines."

The case for building an organic food sector as part of an overall package of increasing income generation programmes in a country like Uganda has to be seen in the context of creating a level playing field for developing countries in trade related matters. As part of this demand organizations campaigning for the interests of small holding farmers in sub-Saharan Africa have put forward a number of proposals to revise the Agreement on Agriculture as proposed by the richer members of WTO.

But there is much else that needs to be considered if any meaningful strategy is to be developed for the importation of organic fruit and vegetables, from a country like Uganda. which prioritizes both the interests of the small producers and those consumers in the West who would like, where possible, to avoid the products of corporate globalization. For example; organizations like the UK's Soil Association could simplify and harmonize their certification and inspection policies in the interests of the small farmers; NGOs such as Christian Aid, Oxfam and ActionAid, could broaden their relief and poverty alleviation programmes by encouraging a wider debate among consumers on the whole issue of food chains, and then take proactive measures to enhance access for small farmers' produce to niche markets in the West. This needs to be undertaken in a symbiotic relationship to their ongoing campaign to reform WTO procedures in the interests of developing countries in general and sub-Saharan African countries in particular. Above all, strategies for building capacity among small producers in Africa must take account of the life-experiences, priorities and cultural values of the indigenous communities so as to overcome their continuing marginalization from esoteric developmental paradigms that have no basis in the real conditions appertaining in developing countries.

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