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2016-08_dc

D+C  e-Paper  August 2016 19 People’s incomes have to rise for food security to improve and poverty to go down in rural Africa. Susanne Neubert of the Berlin-based Centre for Rural Development (Seminar für ländliche Entwicklung – SLE) argued in an interview with Hans Dem- bowski that farms’ productivity must get a boost and that better transport opportu- nities are among the requirements that matter most in this context. Interview with Susanne Neubert What kind of infrastructure is needed to kick- start agriculture development in Africa? It has been said often, and it is true: rural roads are essential. The highways mostly tend to be okay these days, but they neither reach the villages nor the fields. In the lack of feeder roads and bridges, many people remain cut off from their country’s social and economic life. This is especially so in the rainy season. People cannot market their goods, and they cannot provide machines or inputs for their farms. To do so, they’d need roads and access to vehicles. If they cannot get to markets, they cannot mechanise farm work. And if they do mechanise, they’ll need spare parts sooner or later. Transport opportunities are needed to boost productivity. So long as people basically rely on hoes, the scope for more intensive farming is limited. Hoes mean very hard work on rather small plots. African farmers don’t need com- plex, digitised machines of the kind that European farmers use, but comparatively simple and robust machines as are manufactured in Asia and can be used by cooperatives would be helpful. Isn’t oxen ploughing an option? Yes, it is in theory, and many attempts were made to introduce it. However, the oxenisation of African agriculture failed in many places, not least because veterinarian services became overstretched when governments cut their budgets in the course of struc- tural adjustment. Properly trained oxen are quite expensive, and if such an animal dies, the viability of the entire farm is in peril. For oxen to be used sys- tematically throughout a region, reliable veterinarian services are indispensable. Oxen health is endan- gered in many ways in sub-Saharan countries. What about water and power supply? Aren’t these things policymaker should take care of? Well, everything needs to be taken care of in rural areas. But it is a huge challenge to develop all kinds of infrastructure at once. So far, that has not proved possible, and it would certainly cost a lot of money. Setting up a power grid is very expensive, plus it only makes sense if you charge fees from users. But how are people going to earn the money to pay their elec- tricity bills unless they have sufficient farm revenues? That’s why the core issue is to boost farm revenues. It is not an option to let all rural people depend on welfare. As for large-scale water infrastructure, most irrigation projects have failed too. Small-scale irriga- tion in horticulture – the cultivation of fruits and vegetables – is often successful. But where that is the case, you’ll again need transport facilities to get the produce to the market. We know only too well that much food rots along the wayside. It seems that rural development is still basi- cally agriculture development. Yes, that is the way it is. Agriculture is rural areas’ economic backbone. In that regard, nothing has changed over the decades. Since food prices began to rise in 2008, investments in agriculture have begun to make economic sense once more. Urban food demand is considerable – and it is growing. Accord- ingly, attention has been focussing on agriculture development again. There was a lot of talk about integrated rural development in the 1970s and later. The idea was to take a holistic approach, not only to expand agriculture, but to build health services and education facilities, processing industries, all manner of infrastructure and so on at once. Unfortunately, it did not work out. What was the reason? It is very difficult to set systemic or horizontal change in all sectors in motion at the same time. It is much easier to define a single goal and achieve it. Consider HIV/AIDS for example. It is much easier to reduce infection rates and improve the supply of anti-retro- viral drugs than to establish a comprehensive health- care system. You define target groups, and you only need to take a certain number of measures. Other- wise, you’d have to figure out who will pay for what, and who may get what kind of service free of charge. In other words, you start building institutions. The trouble is that poor rural people cannot pay. They simply do not have enough money. For a comprehen- sive health-care system to operate properly, you’d have to ensure that other things work out as well, including the generation of agricultural incomes, production, marketing and so on. Governments normally do not manage to get all these things done Long distances

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