Book co-published by Editions Quae, Quae, CIRAD & AFD, to be released on April 19
Can agricultural markets be the adjuvants of sustainable development in Southern countries? Nothing is less certain if we only consider the endogenous laws of deregulated markets. Analytical rigor today obliges us to concede that advocacy on market self-regulation, which has flourished over the past forty years, has not been based on any strong argument. On the contrary, historical experience shows that the chronic instability, highlighted by Hyman Minsky about financial markets in the 1970s, has spread to the entire market sphere. This instability is detrimental to any effective allocation of resources, and family farms and farmers are the first victims.
We can no longer overlook the fact that certain growth dynamics of agricultural production, which are solely driven by technical and economic objectives, marginalize the poorest, exacerbate inequalities, and destroy ecosystems or contaminate them, sometimes irreversibly. Consequently, the techno-productivist paradigm can now no longer be the ultimate ratio essendi of agricultural development.
At the same time, over the last decade, socially, economically and ecologically sustainable trajectories have emerged here and there which bring hope for agriculture. To be viable, these alternative initiatives require a common vision, a project shared by all actors in agricultural sectors and territories. In other words, and this is the founding vision of the following publication, a significant part of the future of agriculture is being played out at the crossroads of the sector and the territory.
It is throughout a “sector” (or “value chain”) that the flows of added value circulate between the many and diverse actors – farmers, manufacturers, traders, consumers – who depend in one way or another on agricultural production. “The sector” also refers to the institutions (organizations, rules, customs…) that these private actors establish to address and negotiate issues of common interest together (quality, volumes, costs and prices…), and with the public authorities when the action of the latter is necessary (taxation, support, infrastructure…). In the best case scenario, an interprofessional and joint governance, linked to regulated market dynamics, thus makes it possible to come close to a “fair” remuneration of actors in the sector. In this case, we are very far from the accounting idea of a fair value that would spontaneously emerge from deregulated market interactions, and from the political concept of good governance, which was popularized twenty years ago, in particular by the International Monetary Fund, and which has all too often served as an alibi for the outright dismantling of the public authorities of a country.
Sector agreements also allow partners to implement qualitative objectives, such as the identity of products, the geographical origin, food safety, the preservation of natural resources and more environmentally friendly agricultural practices… All these characteristics can become factors of competitiveness and some of them also often have value as a “Common”. “Governance”, in this case, consequently means dialogue, compromise (in the positive sense) and mutually beneficial cooperation.
However, agriculture does not simply boil down to agricultural products. In a given territory, the agricultural system builds the landscape, distributes the uses of natural capital, forms the basis of social relations in communities, and deeply structures employment for men and women.
Specialization in a product or diversification, the growth or decline of a particular sector, the extension of cultivated areas or intensification, a change in production method or irrigation, therefore lead to major transformations in rural areas and communities. The same applies to the development of local services and infrastructure which, by optimizing production, directly influence the economic and social evolution of territories.
Consequently, the governance of rural territories is the second aspect which, combined with that of sectors, provides the benchmark by which sustainable agricultural development could be considered, today and tomorrow. The allocation of a territory’s land and water resources, between agriculture, forests, pastures and habitats, the distribution of protection obligations and rights for tenure or to develop land between the legitimate right holders and the operators are only possible through agreements between all the local actors, regardless of the agricultural production allowed by the ecology of the territory in question and the markets. Dialogue, compromise and cooperation achieve more than the violence of market power relations. And, here again, the structure of the common resource, midway between the privatization of enclosures and State collectivization, is undoubtedly the secret to human institutions that respect the unique and fragile global ecosystem available to us. It is a secret that humanity has passed on for millennia, but which contemporary modernity urgently needs to relearn if we do not want the systematic bleeding dry of biodiversity to end up making our planet hostile to those who live on it.
With regard to the present and future demographic challenges, agriculture in Southern countries has the greatest need for trajectories of sustainable prosperity. Do we need to be reminded that to date, food security is not guaranteed for the generation about to be born in Sub-Saharan Africa? These types of trajectory are already being invented. Deploying them requires mobilizing economic actors at the intersection of a vertical “sector” approach and the horizontal dimension of “territorial” communities. Shaping the social space and the institutions that are associated with it, between sectors and territories, is a demanding task. It requires technical, environmental, economic and social innovations at all levels, from local to global, which involve partnerships between research and economic and institutional actors, consumers from the North and farmers from the South. Is it not by learning from such a dialogue and such audacity that humanity, as such, is accomplished? The aim of this publication is to contribute to this.
The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position of their institutions or of AFD.