Agricultural policies are usually politically driven in Africa.This is one of the strong points that kept reoccurring during the three-day conference of Political Economy of Agricultural Policies in Africa (PEAPA) held in Pretoria, South Africa, recently. This no doubt is one of the reasons African agriculture has generally not developed. It is apparent that politicians usually think more of the outcome of the policies they make on their political ambition than on the lasting positive impact on the farmers, the people in general and national development.
To change that and ensure agriculture becomes a means to lasting wealth and job creation, it was noted that smallholder farmers need to be involved in policies that affect them. The civil society organisations (CSOs) were therefore urged to play a stronger role in ensuring that the voice of the farmers were heard, their concerns/needs taken into consideration in the making of policies and that the policies were well implemented to a logical conclusion. CSOs were told to invest more in connecting to other players in this process.
“Greater successes would be achieved if diverse CSOs, including NGOs, farmer organisations and social movements worked together, and with academia to create a bigger space for engaging in policy processes,” it was noted.
During this three-day conference, organised by the Future Agricultures Consortium (FAC) and the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies, politics and agriculture were discussed and debated in sessions on how they affected food prices, seed systems, extension and land, among many others.
The need for smallholder involvement is agricultural development is evidenced by the fact that policies that are initiated at the top and passed down have usually not worked, while those policies initiated by farmers achieve remarkable results. The cassava inclusion policy in Nigeria, an idea that was originally initiated by farmers, accepted within their associations is one of such policies. It has suffered many setbacks from vested interests contrary to it, but the policy is gradually achieving the desired result – creating opportunities for cassava farmers to earn more regularly and create jobs, growth of the cassava value chain and involvement of professionals, reduction in wheat imports and savings of billions of foreign exchange.
Farmers therefore need to resist agricultural policies that would simply make a political leader(s) more popular but have no lasting impact on growth of the sector.
Adebayo Olukoshi of the UN African Institute for Economic Development and Planning in his opening speech at the conference affirmed that “agricultural politics is not just for high-level discussions, change often comes from below.”
In the closing session, Lindwe Sibanda of Food and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network remarked that the time was certainly right to discuss politics – but talk must also be translated into action, saying “engagement of policy makers was required, perhaps by taking experiences from countries to regional communities, as well as looking at ways to hold politicians and others to account.”
Colin Poulton, convener of the policy, processes theme, FAC, said the consortium was taking up the challenge of ensuring these findings get to the appropriate quarters by setting up regional hubs. “Starting this year, we have one hub in South Africa, another in Nairobi, Kenya for East Africa and another in West Africa based in Accra, Ghana, and one of the functions of these hubs will be to plan dissemination of information and other activities of the network within the regions, “he stated.
The FAC is a multidisciplinary and independent learning alliance of academic researchers and practitioners involved in African agriculture. With a network of over 90 researchers in Africa and beyond, it aims to encourage dialogue and the sharing of good practice by policy makers and opinion moulders in Africa on the role of agriculture in broad-based growth. With funding from the UK’s Department for International Development, the consortium is active in 14 countries across East, South and West Africa, as well as Europe, Brazil and China.