Agriculture in Madagascar: dangerous crossroads

Tuesday, 22 July, 2014

It’s a quiet news day today, but while our feeds aren’t buzzing spectacularly, that doesn’t mean they’re not showcasing interesting things. Via Pambazuka News (French) - “A Pan-African voice for liberty and justice” - we'bve just enjoyed a discussion of the need for coherent agribusiness policy in Madagascar and the possible dangers of agressive agribusiness policy approaches.

Under the subheading “AN INVESTMENT PROJECT WITHOUT REAL CONSULTATION” (and with the usual apologies for the quality of our translation), the article discusses how Madagascar is engaged in a flagship project designed by the Indian Ocean Commission (IOC) that aims to enhance food security and regional integration and conquer other export markets. It’s based on intensive monocultures (rice, corn, onions, dried beans, etc.)  

This plan has been developed through a recent period of political crisis, and without consultation of the Malagasy population, but nonetheless its progress seems inexorable despite allegations that it is a threat to established methods of family farming and that it excludes the rural poor. 

The wider relevance of these complaints are that they raise an argument against a strategy in action throughout Africa. Seven years ago Madagascar joined the Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Program (CAADP) that was established in 2003 under the New Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad). This programme is a set of principles to guide strategies and investment programmes in African countries, and among other things contains policy guidance for agriculture, livestock and fisheries.

Civil society organisations in other African countries that have applied the CAADP have conducted a review of national investment plans developed in this context, publishing recommendations in January 2014. While somewhat vague, at least insofar as they’re elucidated in this article, these recommendations are similar to those made ​​by African farmers' organizations in 2005: apply a more family-oriented agriculture policy; adopt a vision of the future that frees Africa famine and malnutrition;l and export surpluses. NEPAD's agricultural programme, on the other hand, is designed to increase the aggressiveness of African entrepreneurship in agribusiness. 

Relevance to Madagascar? Well, the next subheading makes it pretty clear: “WHY FARMERS MALAGASY MAY LOSE ALL.”

Under CAADP the Malagasy government commitments through 2025 include the annual allocation of at least 10% of the national budget to Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries; a target of 6% ​​agricultural growth per year; and an assurance of "balancing approaches to fight against poverty with those of economic growth in the allocation of resources". 

Malagasy officials confirm despite this, there is no coherent agricultural policy in place but - according to press reports - the Minister of Agriculture said October 21, 2013 that "if we did not sign this compact today, we would not not have funding and could not benefit from the technical and financial partnerships needed to develop our economy, especially the rural areas”. 

The article poses two main questions:

- What are the structures within the Malagasy government that have signed the National Pact? These are apparently unclear form the compact itself, which has a signature page bearing two signatures, one "For technical and financial partners," the other "For the regional Economic Community." In addition, it is unclear whether the representative of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) who countersigned the document signed for COMESA alone, or on behalf of all institutions included in the Compact: the African Union, the Community of Eastern and Southern Africa (SADC) and the IOC.

- What are the consequences for farmers of the commitment thereby made to create "two million hectares of investment areas… promoted and secured with the private sector"?

There seems to be a clash of agricultural models at play here: another document clarifies the risks to the Malagasy farmers. The "Compendium of policy briefs for Madagascar - Opportunities and challenges for growth and resilience,” published by the World Bank in May 2014, explicitly supports agribusiness and also mentions the term extensification. The chapter on agriculture advocates "extensification as an option for future initiatives to ensure the rapid recovery of agri-industry, as well as clear rules for the granting of new concessions." 

The author clearly announces that "the commercialization of agriculture will be at the expense of those who can not compete." And assert that the agricultural growth driven by productivity improvements will certainly be accompanied by a major rural exodus to "urban areas rich in employment." 

This confirms certain consequences of agribusiness development in Madagascar, namely: 

- If both production models are allowed to develop under conditions of free competition, peasant family farming may gradually disappear because of unequal power relations 

- This will result an inevitable exodus of rural populations to urban areas because agricultural companies will not provide as many jobs as peasant family farming. However, the supposition that urban areas in Madagascar are “rich in employment” seems optimistic at best.

Everything is still apparently to play for, and the article offers to polar visions of the future for Madagascar.

In one, agribusiness brings rapid enrichment of a minority of domestic and foreign investors. Strong mechanization and high productivity of agro-industry limits agricultural workers. This ultimately produces a company whose agricultural exports increase but the majority of the population becomes poorer, surviving through food aid and food imports of dubious quality. 

In the other, the country chooses to focus on smallholder family farming policy, securing farmers' access to land and water and facilitating the availability of inputs and small equipment. Modern ecological agricultural techniques are chosen that are aimed at increasing local production and ensuring adequate food for all members of each rural and urban family, without exposure to global market fluctuations. In this vision, a more equitable distribution of wealth is achieved, and export surpluses are still possible. 

Put like this, the choice is pretty simple. The danger lies in MAdagascar’s fragile political situation and the lack of a coherent and realistic agricultural policy.

Pambazuka promises further pieces exploring other arguments to support the choices presented in this article: watch this space.