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Foro Global sobre Seguridad Alimentaria y Nutrición • Foro FSN

Re: Examining the linkages between trade and food security: What is your experience?

Helga   Vierich-Drever
Helga Vierich-DreverYellowhead Tribal CollegeCanada
I am very worried about this neoliberal green revolution agenda for African agriculture. I worked for one of the institutes involved in this. As dedicated and sincere all my colleagues at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics were, I found it incredible that they had so little contact with farmers and seemed to accept without question the “failure” of traditional subsistence economies. 
 
This failure is an absolute myth, as I found that the traditional lineage system in Mali and Burkina Faso functioned well as a risk management buffer: many lineage heads had set aside up to eight years grain in the communal welfare bins. I never saw evidence of malnutrition where these systems were intact. trade between different regions, like the indigenous systems of rotating farmer markets, were for spices and commodities of a more specialized nature than the major subsistence crops. Millet and sorghum was produced for basic subsistence needs, and many rural communities still adhered to the traditions that made sale of these crops a shameful and even punishable offence. 
 
Where I saw malnutrition was in the urban slums, and I understand it is common in refugee camps. Malnutrition in Africa is a by product of development “efforts” dating from the displacement of people from much of their best land during the introduction of European stye commercially oriented farms in the colonial period. 
 
There has been enormous change in much of Africa, and much effort has been expended to make life better for people in all the countries which became independent states since the end of the colonial period in the last century.  But a lot of damage has been done, certainly much of it unintentionally, in that period, in attempts to provide development assistance. 
 
 Traditional rural socio-economic systems, with their organization into lineage’s, chiefdoms and clans, have been misunderstood by outsiders.  The function of the traditional tribal elites was  not about accumulation of wealth.  Rather senior councils of village elders and conventions of tribal leadership were,  rather, about the entrusting of communal surplus to a respected persons.  This was, then, as i mentioned at the outset, about managing risk. 
 
A chief who sold this for personal gain would be stripped of office and was, in the past, executed. It is not a question of a powerful person extracting tribute, it is someone taking on a lot of responsibility, often for specifically generated communal surpluses generated for that purpose. Ranking is directly related to increasing responsibility. Household heads were expected to produce enough to feed their families from year to year, plus they must donate a certain amount to their lineage heads. 
 
Each lineage head has responsibility to store enough to see to most necessary ceremonials within the lineage (marriages, funerals etc), and the chief, often elected from among a council of older lineage heads, was responsible for donations to the communal stores. 
 
In pastoral societies, you get this sort of thing happening also, but it is mainly livestock that the lineage heads and local chiefs accumulate. Theft and counter-raids to recover value are undertaken often, and involve both duplicity and loss of life, Long term risk management is a serious concern in all viable cultures.
 
The role of young men within these systems is to show themselves worthy of respect. They do this by honouring the responsible heads of their family, their lineages, their clans, and the village chief. Chiefs are elected by a council of elders (lineage heads) and hold authority in the same measure as “our heads sweat with worry”, as one village headman told me. Young men compete for honour, and for recognition as people worthy of respect and trust. This is kind of important, since it is the elders who make decisions about allocation of land and livestock from communal resources, and without their favour, a man cannot afford to raise a family.
 
There was a recent paper published in PNAS, which begins by asserting that warriors have more wives and offspring.  The main author of the reported study, however, makes it clear that  it is more complicated than that.  http://www.pnas.org/content/112/2/348.abstract
 
"The overriding question I'm interested in is how humans cooperate, and one type of cooperation is participating in intergroup conflict,” (Luke Glowacki) explained. "Why do people do things that benefit their group if they have to pay a cost? For the Nyangatom there are no formal institutions governing society, and yet they manage to make a living from one of the toughest landscapes on Earth, and they do that through cooperation."
 
In fact, he said, cooperation plays a key role in virtually every aspect of Nyangatom life.
 
"I set out to study who herds together, who digs water holes together, who plants together, and also who participates in conflict events together," he added. "I conducted interviews about the raids, and collected reproductive histories by asking how many wives raiders have, how many children each has had, how many are alive, how many died and how they died."
 
Glowacki interviewed village elders detailing their history of participation in raids. Analysis of lifetime participation in raids, of 120 men, showed that participation in more raids resulted having higher rank, as well as more wives and more children over the course of their lives. 
 
This is an example of a pastoral society, and it should be noted that most of the raids were not planned as actual armed conflicts between men, they were expeditions to steal cattle or to recover stolen animals.  But this is very different form the profit oriented kind of rustling of livestock that is such a problem here in North America, which leads to serious law enforcement headaches. Indeed, while the traditional authority and motivation is intact, the actual violence and lose of life is much less than what happens without traditional systems of authority in place. 
 
Glowacki: "We don't have quantitative data to that effect, but there are some groups in neighboring Kenya where raiders who capture cows in a raid don't have to give them to the elders or they can sell them at a market for money, and the violence is significantly greater" he said. "The Nyangatom have a mechanism that mediates the benefits the warriors receive," he added. "There is a lot of status and privilege that comes with participating in raids -- when you come back to the village, the women are singing and people are parading. They're celebrating you, but you still go home alone."
 
The fact of being a successful participant in raids is secondary, I think, to the fact of being a person with a good reputation. It is, in a sense, an older and, in evolutionary terms, a much more illuminating aspect of human social behaviour. I found reputation absolutely critical among the forager Kua, in the Kalahari, as well. indicating that  where violent confrontations were considered childish and imprudent, a man’s reputation - his character - judged by means of qualities universal in human societies no matter what the economy, still makes a difference.  Among the Kua, such men, although they were on the surface, entirely modest characters, never lacked for eager campmates, they always had the largest camps. Even though most hunts were individual affairs, meat was shared - as you can imagine, larger camps had the best supply of meat.
This is because these universally admired qualities - loyalty, diligence, diplomacy, generosity, and a certain shrewd wit - all made such a person sought after by companions, surpassing any claims based merely on genealogical distance or appearance. Honour is a very real thing among men. 
The heart of human cooperative life, is a moral weight based on honour. Willingness to contribute to joint ventures is rooted in the same impulse as willingness to share food, and to extend a hand to help a friend.
I would suggest that the ordeals involved in coming of age often subject young people to tests.  For young men this involves finding ways to show older men that they were worthy.  It  depends on the kind of economy, how reputation - the touchstone of respect and support from others - can be won. A focus on increasing farmer income, or income from livestock production,  misses this point about cooperative ventures being one important way of gaining reputation.  People strive to live up to cultural ideals, and are ranked, formally or informally, in every society, even the most egalitarian. being respected and esteemed by one’s companions and elders were usually major factors leading to improved  networks of cooperation and long term welfare.
The earning of respect and reputation is closely tied to showing behaviour that benefits the whole community. Human beings are extremely sensitive to the moral parameters involved in achieving honour, and it always has a moral dimension. Justice is rarely served by means dishonest to the interests of the community. Thus people can get personally wealthy but still be widely disparaged as greedy and selfish. Self interest is NOT enough to get you honour.
I think the period of colonial rule was detrimental to these traditional systems, either seeking to make use of chiefs and other local tribal authorities to carry out changes in farming practices intended to create marketable commodities like cacao, coffee, bananas, peanuts, and cotton... or to generate beef and other livestock products for world markets.  This has weakened the traditional risk management within these societies, and of course also converted some of the best farmland to production for export.  
 
Meanwhile the business model of entrepreneurial individual large scale farming, using green revolution techniques involving mechanization, chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides, as well as seeds developed for improved yield, has been very prominent in many development efforts.  Where this has caught on it, tended to result in families of those prominent in the traditional elites commandeering formerly communal lands for themselves, leading to the displacement of lesser lineages into poverty or, at best, employment as agricultural labourers or, at worst, shantytowns now ringing Africa’s expanding cities.  
 
Recommendations to prevent this from getting worse would be to discourage the (often westernized and entrepreneurial) elites who constitute Africa’s leaders today, from further displacements of tribal and traditional societies from their lands to make room for foreign investors who want to develop agricultural or other enterprises. 
 
Landlessness was not a problem of Africa’s people prior to colonialism and it is a major cause of poverty and hunger today.  The other major cause is breakdown of traditional tribal risk management in favour of emphasis on turning farms into sources of “income” rather than family and community food supplies.  There has been pressure to develop private land tenure and discourage traditional communal tenure where farmers have use-rights (usufruct) as their crop locations rotate through a long fallow system. This is a very flexible system that adjusts access to land to the size of the family group dependent upon it, rather than to the market.   Help for small farmers on traditional usufruct allotments of village communal lands is critical.  ICRISAT has some programmes for small farmers, especially women farmers, on communal plots, that might be worth looking into.
 
The settlement of nomadic pastoralists should also be discouraged not encouraged, by development and foreign aid organizations. Most of this was and is done out of the typical unease, of many state societies, about people who cannot be easily located and whose children cannot be put into schools. Even the best of intentions, under such circumstances, play right into the hands of any special interests who have other plans for the land that the pastoralists traditionally controlled. And regular supplies of food aid from foreign donors are no substitute for traditional systems of risk management.  In fact they make it easier to continue to undermine them, especially if the local village elders are left out of the distribution process.  This just creates conditions begging for development of corrupt bureaucracies or local warlords. 
 
Planning for, and some control of,  reproductive decisions is really a crying need of all the women I ever met in Africa. Yes, they want children, and yes, they want their children to have vaccinations, and medical care, and clean water and opportunities for schooling, but all African women deserve private and discreet access to birth control. This is long overdue in many countries. Men in governments might object, if so, make all development aid and further loans contingent. This is women’s business. . I have talked to a lot women, African women are not different. Given a choice, women generally want to have fewer children and to invest more in each child.  I am aware that this is a tricky issue. But the fact remains that if population continues to grow to the limits fo food supply, hunger will always be a moving target. 
 
 Moreover, there is no need for a development model based on only one kind of production system geared to markets. Nor does it have to be a matter of modern methods being taught; but rather of various techniques and options being offered as possible additions to the traditional methods. People all over the world adopt technology that makes life easier, less risky, and more entertaining. the lightning spread of cell phones should alert us to this!  When people live in a cooperative local community, like a village which has its own land base intact, its systems of social control, honour, and welfare intact, they will be far better judges of which technologies and innovations they adopt.