International Conference on ‘The Agrarian Constraint and Poverty Reduction: Macroeconomic Lessons for Africa’ Organised by IDEAs, EEA and CODESRIA at Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, December 17-19, 2004.

Organisers:
International Development Economics Associates (IDEAs)
The Ethiopian Economic Association (EEA),
Addis Ababa
CODESRIA,
Dakar, Senegal.

Supported by:
UNDP, New York.

IDEAs’ first conference, along with the workshop which immediately preceded, held in Africa and meant exclusively for African economists and policymakers took place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia during 17-19 December 2004. The event, along with the workshop were organized in association with the Ethiopian Economic Association (EEA) and the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA), with support from the UNDP. With a special focus on the agricultural sector, the agenda centred on understanding the linkages between the ongoing processes of agrarian transformation, the increase in poverty and the underlying macroeconomic processes, with particular reference to Africa. The fundamental logic that drove the agenda was the belief that agrarian development cannot be looked at independently of the macroeconomic context, both at the national and international levels, and therefore, that the widening and deepening crises of livelihood and food security occurring in several parts of the less developed world have to be examined as such. Exploring the linkages between the macroeconomic processes and specific changes observed in the agrarian sector, and their implications for poverty reduction were thus the major areas of discussion. The nature of the role of state in addressing the various constraints to agrarian transformation and in adopting progressive development alternatives also featured prominently during the two days of deliberations.

The objective of the international conference on ‘The Agrarian Constraint and Poverty Reduction: Macroeconomic Lessons for Africa’ which was held subsequently was to focus on issues of current concern facing the agrarian sectors of Third World economies with particular reference to Africa. The majority of the conference participants were from within Africa, and most of the papers and discussions focused on African countries’ experiences in dealing with agrarian transformation in the current international conjuncture.

The conference speakers included late Prof. Guy Mhone of the University of Witwatersrand, South Africa, Dr. Berhanu Nega of the Addis Ababa University, Prof. Sam Moyo, Prof. Ben Turok of the African National Congress, South Africa, Zenebewerke Tadesse (formerly of CODESRIA), Carlos Oya of the School of Oriental and African Studies, Prof. Francis Wilson of the University of Cape Town, Dr. Mamadou Dansokho of Dakar, Senegal, Prof. Utsa Patnaik, Prof. Germina Ssemogerere, Makerere University, Uganda, Patrick Bond, Director of Centre for Civil Society, University of Kwazulu-Natal, Jomo K.S. (former Chair of IDEAs and currently at UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs), Jayati Ghosh, Prof. Assefa Ademassie, Director, EEA, Prof. Terry McKinley, UNDP, Prof. Juan Carlos Moreno, CEPAL, etc.

The first day of the conference had sessions centred on the global context of the current agrarian transition, and the underdevelopment and poverty linkages of the agrarian question. Specific issues of trade in agriculture, and the implications of financial liberalisation for agriculture were the focus during the second day of the conference. The following papers were presented:

  • How Viable is an Agriculture-centered Development Strategy in Africa? Lessons from Ethiopia by Berhanu Nega
  • The Land and Agrarian Question in Zimbabwe by Sam Moyo
  • Agricultural Growth in South Africa and Tanzania: The Solution to the Challenge of Unemployment and Poverty in Africa by Francis Wilson
  • Alternative Ways of Estimating Poverty and Implications for Policy: A Critical Appraisal from the Indian Experience by Utsa Patnaik
  • The Structure of the Ethiopian Economy: A SAM-based Characterization and Analysis by Alemayehu Seyoum Tafesse
  • Stocktaking Empirical Findings on Sub-Saharan Africa’s Agricultural Liberalisation (Focus on Mozambique, Senegal and Zambia) by Carlos Oya
  • African Development /Governance, South African Sub-imperialism and NEPAD by Patrick Bond
  • Financial Liberalisation and Credit: A Case Study of Uganda by Germina Ssemogerere
  • Agricultural Credit in Ethiopia after Financial Liberalization by Assefa Ademassie
  • Liberalisation and the Rural Banking Policy: An Indian Case Study by V K Ramachandran
  • Panel discussion on: ‘‘Macroeconomic Policies, Agriculture and Poverty’ chaired by Zenebewerke Tadesse

Coming to macroeconomic lessons in solving the agrarian constraint, the conference concluded that for economies for which the agriculture sector or the rural population is important, the constraints which seem to be radically more crucial than the so-called agrarian constraint under the present conjuncture are the financial constraints, the fiscal constraints and the external constraint. But the most binding constraints were acknowledged as the ideological and political constraints. It was widely agreed that part of the solution in opposing the hegemony of Washington Consensus is about sharing and expanding a common understanding of the problem and mobilising people. And in this context, it was agreed that conferences of this nature are extremely important to ensure that the hegemony of ideas of progressive development are re-established.

It was also suggested by the eminent African development economist late Prof. Guy Mhone that Africa is still lagging far behind in clarifying its developmental problem when compared to countries in Latin America and Asia. He envisioned that there is a need to extend a developmental paradigm or developmental stance for Africa, within which the discourses of rural economy, agriculture, industrialization, credit, unemployment, poverty, etc., all need to be located and analysed.

While the conference successfully wove together the macroeconomic fabric driving the agrarian transition in Africa and there was agreement on the fact that the neoliberal macroeconomic policy package is undermining developing country agriculture across the continent, it was acknowledged that it is also imperative to understand the nature of this transformation at the micro level. Thus, changes in production relations in agriculture and allied sectors in different regions, the nature of involvement of agri enterprises, both domestic and foreign, the macroeconomic factors of fiscal, financial and trade policies underpinning the dynamics of agribusiness operations and their linkages with farmers, the implications of these both for livelihood patterns in the rural areas at different levels and for food security overall, the sustainability of corporate-driven agricultural models, etc. emerged as important issues for further in-depth analysis and research. When IDEAs’ first event in Africa became a remarkable intellectual experience for the over seventy academics and young policymakers who came together at the workshop and conference from across the continents, it was a moment of pride and fulfilment for IDEAs.