Torgeir Fyhri 1998
Chapter 3: Theoretical Framework
CHAPTER 3: Theoretical Framework
Vertical connections exist between man-land in Gambian rural areas. The farmers are mainly subsistence farmers, whose yields are very much determined by non-controllable factors such as vulnerable soils and varying precipitation. Contrary, at a national level, The Gambia is a part of the international market of agricultural products. The Gambia is horizontally connected to other regions and countries. At a national level, institutional and economic mechanisms are imperfect in coping with the risk and uncertainty of subsistence farming. At the same time, a vertically connected farm sector is seemingly unable to serve the national demands of export incomes and self-sufficiency on food.
The issue includes both natural and social variables. Conducting a study with this issue is, as discussed in the former chapter, problematic without bridging these normally divided scientifically disciplines. Therefore, theories with the background from man-land studies will be presented and discussed in this chapter to provide a theoretical setting for the further discussion and analysis.
According to Gleave (1992), Sub-Saharan Africa has as a result of the colonial years been opened for modernisation. This process has created a duality between subsistence and commercial, small scale- and large-scale activities and risks minimising and profit maximisation. Countries on the sub-continent are externally oriented, while the foundation in which the economy is based is weak (Hyden 1988). Changes in world market prices on staples, which are important export products, affect the national economy. In turn, fluctuations in farm gate prices on cash crops such as groundnuts in The Gambia create uncertain conditions on a farm level.
The main feature of this chapter, as the main theoretical foundation of this thesis, is the discussion of how farmers respond to uncertain external conditions influencing farming such as agricultural policy efforts. Sub-chapter 3.1 is consecrated this topic discussing theories of man-land connections, natural resources and farm risk. Sub-chapter 3.2 is consecrated modernisation strategies describing and discussing theories of the topic modernisation, development and agricultural growth.
"Where ends the natural sphere and where begins the social sphere?" The problem has been an object of academic discussion within the geographic discipline. For decades there has been a dividing line between natural and social science within the discipline. According to Massey (1984), the world is neither totally "social" nor totally "natural". Mabogunje (198?) claims that the primary concern in geography is the study of earth as the home of man. Therefore, bridging the division between social and natural science has outstanding traditions in the academic discipline of geography (Holt-Jensen 1996). Other geographers as Johnsen (1985,1986) claim however, the impossibility of integrating both natural and social science: There are two separate disciplines with different problem formulations and different scientifically methods. Hence, at an individual scientist level, integration is impossible. According to this point of view, scientists have to choose either a natural or a social scientific viewpoint. His statement would have relevance if no single type of phenomena belongs only to the geographers as claimed by Stokke (1988). However, geographers are the only scientists dealing with space, place and environment, which include both social and natural processes (Holt-Jensen 1991, Massey 1984). This is the basic starting point of geographers and only geographers.
Some sub-disciplines of geography cannot exist without bridging natural and social science. Conducting agricultural geography, represented by Grigg (1993 and 1995), is for instance an impossible task without accounting both social and natural processes. Another sub-discipline dealing with both social and natural processes is
resource geography (Mitchell 1995, Gjessing 1993, 94 & 96). The sub-discipline resource geography has developed as a result of both external and internal stress on and within the geographic discipline. Increasing environmental problems and degradation of natural resources as a result of overutilisation on different geographical levels forced scientist to study the problem. The main advantage of geographers to cope with such problems was the experience with man-land studies (Rees 1990).
Both ecological factors and the historic development are important features in the agriculture picture visible in The Gambia nowadays. The starting point is Zimmermann's definition of natural resources written already in 1933. The word resource does not refer to thing or substance, but a function (Dery 1996). Zimmermann stresses that natural resources are dynamic due to development in technology and knowledge (Mitchell 1995):
Two basic conditions are affected by a dynamic land utilisation: soil fertility and farming strategies. Soil fertility will here be measured as area productivity. Usually there are some limitations on measuring the content of nutrients in the soil as output of yields per ha. Many other factors like use of fertiliser and manure, precipitation, choice of crop and variety in addition to soil fertility will determine the area productivity. However, if take the starting point that soil fertility is not static natural resource, but a dynamic product of both human inputs and nutrients of natural origin, this measure will have meaning in this study (Mitchel 1989, Trolldalen 1984).
The link between farm strategies and the natural resource land is less visible than between land and soil fertility. However, the choice of farm strategies are affected by the dynamic land utilisation as farm strategies are changing due to changing demands, skills and traditions and technological level. Farm strategies do also change as a result of more rapid responses to rapid changing external conditions as e.g. policy efforts and rainfall fluctuations. Changes in farm gate prices of cash crops, changes in prices on inputs as fertiliser and changes in credit policy affect farming, forcing the farmers to respond into new farm strategies.
In rural human societies very close related to the resilience of the ecological systems the social institutions within the society are developed to cope with risk and stress.
The rural household should be seen as rapidly changing units that must adapt to change (Taal 1989). According to Mustapha (1992), the survival strategies at a houshold level are recognised by
multiple modes of earning a livelihood:
According to Corbett (1988), the farmers tend to respond to changing farm risk in three broad stages: First, by insurance mechanisms as changes in cropping pattern and planting practices, reduced consumption and inter household transfers. Second, by disposal of productive assets as e.g. sale of large livestock, agricultural tools, mortgaging of land or obtaining credit. The last stage includes starvation and migration. The decision of reducing farm risks is usually made at the household level.
In addition, spatial variations affect the responses to farm risk. Decisions on reducing farm risk is very much dependent on the geographic and socio-economic possibilities. Farmers living close to the market in the main city have e.g. better access to off-farm incomes than farmers living in more remote areas (DeCosse 1992).
There exist two approaches to decision-making and responses at a farm level in traditional agricultural societies. In the first, it is assumed that the rural household behave like profit maximising firms. Authors as Young & Burton (1992) maintain that price distortions in developing countries will increase commodity prices and that farmers will respond by in using more input, adapt new technology and increase production. They are thereby sharing the point of view with Boserup (1965 & 1981) in the other approach, as pronounced by Lipton (1968); it is assumed that the rural household acts as a risk minimiser. If one assumes that the rural households behave like profit maximising firms predicted responses on increasing prices on farm inputs would lead to a decrease in demand of those inputs. Further, an increase in output price on farm products is expected to lead to an increase in market supply. Empirical evidence from sub-Saharan Africa shows, however, that such predicted responses are quiet rare (Mwangi-wa-Githinji & Perrings 1993).
Scientists as Lipton (1968 & 1986), argue that the rural household selects the least risky production. In subsistence oriented societies crop failure not only means a downturn in market, but a high probability of famine. Farmers tend to allocate their resources so as to assure survival (Taal 1989):
The responses resulting into concrete farm strategies depends very much on the dominating approach: risk minimising related to subsistence production or profit maximisation related to commercial production (Lipton 1968). The term "dominating" is used, because we cannot imagine a society such as in The Gambia where one of the approaches does not exist. As claimed by Mwangi-wa-Githinji & Perrings (1993), there are little evidence from sub-Saharan countries that the farmers are strictly commercial farmers and thereby following the profit maximisation approach. In the case of The Gambia, the cash crop groundnut is the main crop cultivated. Cash is needed at a farm level for paying taxes, consumer goods, farm inputs or food. However, with the uncertainty related to farming, the selection of a profit maximisation approach tends to be rather risky. Subsistence crops are still produced to secure food availability. Some scientists as Wolpert (1964) and Lipton (1968), claim a third approach related to the risk minimising strategy, but incorporating the cash demand: The farmers are satisfyers or utility optimisers. The largest amount of cash crops possible without increasing risk will be produced. Without paying regard to this in modernising efforts, predicted results will not show (Young & Burton 1992). This point of view will be a theoretical foundation in the further discussion of this topic in this thesis.
Using the term "traditional" contains some fallacies. What is traditional and what is modern. As discussed in the former sub-chapter, farmers in Africa are rapidly responding to external stress, which means that the are changing their scope of production as external factors change. Hinderink & Sterkenburg (1987) associate "traditional" with stagnation. Hansen (1996), claims this use of the term as a "trap". If "traditional" is associated with stagnation how can rapid responses such as risk minimising strategies be associated with the same term. Due to this paradox, the term will be avoided in this thesis.
The term "modernise" can simply be defined: To make suitable for present-day needs (Hornby 1985, Goodall 1987). We should however realise that a small elite of authorities or scientists defines what present-day needs are. When it comes to The Gambia, the national agricultural authorities define present-day needs with the staring point in the national economy. The main aim of the Gambian agricultural authorities is making the agricultural sector commercialised to increase GDP. Besides increasing the national income, a commercialised agricultural sector tends to be easier to control (Eastman 1987). Therefore, in this thesis the term modernise will be used more or less as the process working towards agricultural commercialisation.
Subsistence farming means growing crops and raising cattle mainly for domestic use (Goodall 1987). Commercial agriculture means growing crops and raising animals with the object of selling. If the farmer only sells the incidental surplus of the production, or is forced to sell parts of the yields, he is still according to Hinderink & Sterkenburg (1987), a subsistence farmer. Dividing commercial from subsistence farming has most relevance at a farm level. (ibid.)
Barbier (1987) maintains that distinctions between cash crops and export crops are not clearly defined. They are often used synonymously. However:
Development can, according to sociological science, be defined as planned change (Eastman 1987, Kunnskapsforlagets blå ordbøker 1995). Agricultural development involves planned changes designed to increase production of food and non-food products (Eastman 1987). According to this definition, the development of the agricultural sector of Sub-Saharan Africa, included The Gambia, involves a shift from subsistence to commercial agriculture (Eastman 1987).
However, this definition of development presupposes that:
A more adequate definition could be development as a process of gradual change (Goodall 1987, Hornby 1985).
However, the viewpoint of development as a planned change has to a high degree influenced the shaping of agricultural strategies in sub-Saharan Africa, especially when it comes to the role of agricultural commercialisation for economic growth.
Hinderink and Sterkenburk classify authors with different view on agricultural commercialisation according to their development thinking. They observe three different major points of view: First, the economic technocratic viewpoint, which follows the green revolution path. Third world countries must copy the economic development of the agricultural sector in western countries. Biological, chemical and mechanical innovations are necessary tools. Commercialisation is associated or sometimes equated with modernisation and development.
The second view puts attention to the individual characteristics of the farmers. Even here, commercialisation is associated with modernisation and development, but here individual behavioural factors are seen as barriers or channels for diffusion.
Thirdly, some authors put agricultural commercialisation in an economical and political context of power relationships at different geographic scales. Third world economies become incorporated into the capitalist world economy through agricultural commercialisation. This incorporation is a dialectic process recognised by development and underdevelopment. Others, like Hyden (1988), claim the role of the colonial and post-colonial in the development process. Agricultural commercialisation is seen as necessary, but inadequate for development. Whiteout any fundamental changes in the politico-economic structure, the commercialisation process increases the country dependency on external demands (Hinderink and Sterkenburg 1987).
In common, all these three points of view have their starting point in the need for modernisation and development at a national level. In practise national demands and national policy efforts has been and is the main focus in theories on agricultural development.
The distinction between this point of view, resulting into national policy strategies, and the perceptions of the farmers, resulting into responses to these policy strategies, will be an issue for further discussion in this thesis.
Sub-Saharan Africa has a rapidly increasing population. There are different scientifically viewpoints on how the growth will affect agricultural development:
Population growth is in a neo-Malthusian outcome, seen as the main obstacle for increasing agriculture yields in developing countries. Because population growth creates greater demands for food, more land have to be taken into agriculture production through expansion of arable land and shortening of fallow (Mortimore, 1993b). Shorter fallow leads to a loss of fertility of cultivated soils, declining crop yields per ha, falling output per man-hour and, in the system as whole a fall in total output.
Linkages between population growth and declining agricultural production according to a "neo-Malthusian" view are (Mortimore 1993b):
A contrary view is the Boserupian. The Boserupians argue that population growth, and greater demand for food, force the farmers to intensify the production through farming implementations or labour intensification:
Boserup claims that agricultural growth is a spontaneous process in which the farmers respond on market mechanisms. Food aid and surpluses of high technology inputs from developed countries disturbs the market mechanisms for domestic produced crops (Boserup 1981). It is, however, too simple to blame donor agencies for the stagnant agricultural production of Sub-Saharan countries. African agriculture is rather complex, and access to market alone cannot solve the problems.
Lele & Stone (1989) made adjustments of Boserupian theories to be more usable for African conditions. The movement away from traditional area-extensive farming methods is associated in their model with higher levels of technology, labour, and capital investment in land. Boserup views the intensification as a spontaneous move to more frequently cropping of more land, due to population growth. Lele & Stone add another type of intensification more dependent on policy and incentives for a shift to crops of higher value or higher yields, or to more productive land. Further, they maintain that an agricultural intensification does not axiomatically follow from higher population densities or more frequent cropping of land:
Two other schools of thoughts have played more concrete roles in the process of agricultural development in sub-Saharan Africa: The neo-Marxists and the neoliberal economists. The neo-Marxists claims that population growth is inadequate for agricultural growth. The neo-Marxist social scientists are seeing, however, the colonial "heritage", the international structures of capitalism, and class-based national politics as a barrier for the individual farmers to develop and intensify their production (Kates et. al. 1993). Influenced by these thoughts have the national authorities of sub-Saharan African countries, implemented policy efforts aiming at reduce the affection of the international economically structures for the individual farmer. In the sevethies, state interference in agricultural policies, such as subsidies and fixed prices, was a common strategy.
In the early-eighties, as a reaction against state interference, supervised by IMF and the World Bank, the neo-liberal viewpoint of privatisation of state enterprise replaced the neo-Marxist ideology in many sub-Saharan countries (Nustad 1997). The neo-liberalists state an optimistic outcome of agricultural production in developing countries. Population growth creates market. In turn, introduction of free markets provides the individual farmer to intensify and specialise production for sale (Kates et. al 1993).
According to Hyden (1988), modernisation efforts in Sub-Saharan Africa, as the investigation of monoculture, are results of political domination rather than spontaneous processes among farmers as predicted by Boserup (1965,1981) and Lele & Stone (1989). Seemingly, Hyden argues as a neo-Marxist when he blames the colonial authorities and present western thinking agricultural authorities for what he calls an agricultural crisis in Sub-Saharan Africa. The crisis is a result of stagnancy of food and cash crop production of the sub-continent the last twenty years. However, Hydens aim is introducing a new paradigm in development thinking and donor policies in Sub-Saharan Africa. A new fresh policy action is dependent on focusing on their own human and natural resources instead of copying European, Asian and American process of agricultural development (Hyden 1988). Hyden claims that the crisis is a result of technological arrogance by scientist and donor organisations of developed countries, rather than physical limits. The same scientists (see 3.2) define agriculture development. This kind of development has so far included standardisation and rationalisation, which in turn has led to soil degradation and more vulnerability at a farm level. There has been a lack of attention on the social sustainability. Indigenous forms of agriculture are seen as inadequate, while modernisation of production through introduction of complex technology packages to enhance efficiency is seen as necessary. External forces rather than focus have driven Sub-Saharan agriculture development on internal resources. The agricultural authorities have followed the same path. The reason is obvious, there has been a demand for rapid increases of both food and cash crop production to meet national demands. Hyden argues, however, that there is a demand for redefining development due to failure of growth based agricultural policies. Greater priority to welfare instead of production, diversity as opposed to uniformity, and security as opposed to vulnerability must be given.
However, Hyden (ibid.), tends to fall into the same trap as the scientists and authorities he critic when he treats the African farmer as a victim of agricultural policies. The farmers are no passive respondents, but are rapidly adapting their production to changing external conditions (Taal 1989, Corbett 1988, Lipton 1968 & 1986 and DeCosse 1992). What Hyden (1988) calls an agricultural crisis is found at a national or a regional scale and not at a rural household level as in the case of The Gambia. The farmers do avoid risks through risk coping strategies. Hence, the national agricultural production might be stagnant, but at a household level the farmers are getting cash through additional incomes and food through subsitence production.
Others, as Richards (1983) claims that the literature on the topic shows little understanding of the technical and the biological context in which agricultural production take place:
Therefore, in this thesis, concrete results of farming strategies caused by the action of the farmers as
responses to external influences are main objects of study. By this, attention is put on the macrotheories as normative theorems in the concrete agricultural policies, more than as necessary theoretical foundations to create modernisation strategies.
The uses of macrotheories in specific studies involve some problematic features. Generally processes do not adequately explain what is happening at particular moments or in particular places (Massey 1984). We shall thereby avoid what Holt Jensen (1996) calls the "generalisation trap". General theories in common are only abstractions of reality and can ever be reality. Therefore, basing specific scientifically work on macrotheories always has limitations. Including specificity of the particular moment and the particular place is necessary in explanation of a phenomenon. However, if assumed that nothing is general and every phenomena is unique, then we fall into the "singularity trap" (ibid.).
That no problem is purely special or general is the theoretical hypothesis of this thesis. In this study of agricultural modernisation in The Gambia, complexity of agricultural intensification itself is a study object. Therefore, general theories have to be balanced with more specific findings. Or, in other words: