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2016-08_dc

D+C  e-Paper  August 2016 21 regions, consider parts of Kenya for example. Low population density, however, implies long distances, so it becomes harder to bring about development. It would certainly help if farmers were better organised in order for them to market goods together or share machine pools. Cooperatives and capacity building could make the differ- ence. Should governments or civil-society agencies promote this cause? In rural Africa, it normally does not make sense to try to distinguish the state from civil society. The reason is that government agencies tend to be weak. Leaders’ authority mostly arises from tradition and religion at the grassroots level. I agree that it is nec- essary to organise smallholder farms more effectively so they can join forces in production and marketing and achieve the kind of economies of scale that nor- mally only benefit big players. But once more, this is easier said than done. Due to failed attempts in the past, all new attempts to build unions and coopera- tives meet with considerable distrust today. Organis- ing farmers is a core issue, but a most challenging one too. You have to build on what is already there and avoid risks of corruption at the same time. The approach must be intelligent and participatory. Pro- gress on this front is essential for rural development. Would support for individual farmers be feasible? Well, e-vouchers are a promising approach. Govern- ments can grant such vouchers via mobile phones, and they allow farmers to procure the input they need, including fertilisers for example. One prob- lem, however, is that these things are not available everywhere. Private companies will have to expand their outreach, and small-scale traders can make a difference at the local level. They are sure to do that once the purchasing power is adequate and the necessary infrastructure is in place. Once again, rural feeder roads matter. The conventional systems of farm subsidies, however, are dysfunctional. Typi- cally, governments procure huge volumes of fertiliser and ship it to rural areas, but many farmers do not get it in time or perhaps never at all. All too often, it is the wrong kind of fertiliser. The typical African government invests too small a share of its budget in agriculture, and what it does spend is squandered on subsidies that do not really help. Some middlemen and all kinds of dubious agencies make profits, but the smallholder farms are not advancing. Perhaps the subsidies should simply be slashed? No, that would not be okay either. Smallholders and subsistence farmers really need support, and e-vouchers make sense. They can be used in a tar- geted manner, especially as mobile phone networks are operational almost everywhere. Subsidies can take many forms moreover. Zambia, for example, has introduced e-vouchers for storing cereal so small- holders can wait for seasonal prices to rise before they sell their harvest. They earn more money this way. One thing is obvious, however: none of this works out where transportation options are lacking. Roads and access to vehicles are indeed crucial. Sprague/Lineair Susanne Neubert heads the Centre for Rural Development (Seminar für Ländliche Entwicklung – SLE) at the Humboldt Universität zu Berlin. [email protected] agrar.hu-berlin.de Zambian farmers: “hoes mean very hard work on rather small plots.”

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