Rearticulating farmer groups in a weak state

Frederic Lançon

The Coalition Paysanne Malgache (CPM) was selected and recommended by IFAP as the Malagasy partner for the implementation of the ESFIM collaborative component. This is a relevant choice, as CPM was established on January 2002 as a platform for supporting and strengthening Malagasy Farmers Organisations’ (FOs) actions for advocacy. It was originally co-founded by five major farmer organisations (FEKRITAMA – Confederation des Agriculteur Malgaches, SCAE – Solidarité Coopérative des Agriculteurs et Eleveurs, KPI/FIKRIFAMA – Comités de gestion Communautaire des eaux potables, TITEM – Mutuelle d’Epargne/Crédit Agriculteur, FMTK – Mouvement des jeunes ruraux catholiques malgaches), with the support of Agriterra. CPM’s vision of the rural development process is based on reinforcing rural institutions such as Chambers of Agriculture, supporting farmers’ integration into markets through the promotion of fair marketing mechanisms, and the sensitisation of the rural population on environmental issues. CPM’s position in the agricultural institutional setting has evolved as a result of various administrative changes.

Its role as a platform for the voice of Malagasy farmers was contested by the former administration, which established Chambers of Agriculture at the national and regional level to fulfil a function resembling that of the CPM. Furthermore, major farmer organisations became more reluctant to channel farmers’ claims through the CPM, arguing that this institutional setting was too costly, and that they also preferred to remain more autonomous in formulating their own advocacy priorities. Thus CPM gradually developed an hybrid status, combining the role of an apex body and one of a classical farmer organisation, formed by the direct subscription of local farmers groups as direct CPM members and not through another Farmers Organisation. As of 2011, the organisation was composed of 244,000 individual members and 2,648 other farmer-organisation members. It has a classical organisational structure, with a National Bureau elected by a General Assembly and regional entities. CPM is a functional institution with headquarters located in Antananarivo, having administrative (clerk/accountant) and technical capacities (project manager) operating under the supervision of a General Secretary.

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Development challenge

Madagascar ranks among the poorest countries in the Human Development Index (151 of 187 in 2010). Like other least-developed countries, Madagascar is characterised by a large rural population (70 per cent of total population), thus agricultural production plays a crucial role as a source of income. Most of the agricultural production, however, is geared towards home consumption, especially the major staple, rice. Beyond the immediate utilisation of food and other natural resources by rural households, the local urban market is the second outlet for agricultural products, although marketing opportunities are limited by the small share of the urban population in the country. The third outlet for agricultural production is the world market, with agricultural exports representing approximately 20 per cent of the agricultural GDP. Even though the export share of the total agricultural production remains rather low, this outlet has historically played a catalytic role in connecting subsistence-based agriculture to a market-driven economy, through expanding export of certain crops (e.g., coffee, cloves, and vanilla). However, the growth in agricultural exports has been slower than the growth recorded for other major exports (textile, clothing), resulting in a continuous decline in the share of agricultural products in the total value of export.

This relative stagnation of agricultural exports is an illustration of the challenges faced by the development of Malagasy agricultural marketing systems for linking producers to end users. Agricultural marketing development is hampered by a number of constraints, including low productivity, little access to capital, market inefficiency, etc. Moreover, one major obstacle faced by Malagasy agriculture to expansion of its market is inadequate transportation infrastructure. While government and donors have prioritised the renovation of main roads, feeder roads are often lacking. According to the transport division of the World Bank, Madagascar has one of the lowest Rural Access indices in Sub-Saharan Africa; only 25 per cent of the rural population is within 2 km (or about 25 min walking time) of an all-weather road (the average Sub-Saharan rate is at 36 per cent, 59 per cent for South America and above 80 per cent for Asia).

While agricultural development and smallholders’ inclusion in markets are constrained by structural factors, they are also suffering from the political instability and uncertainty that has marked the last decade. The recurring political crises do not provide an enabling environment for implementing agricultural development strategies requiring continuity. The latest phase of political instability started in 2009, at the time that the inception phase of the ESFIM collaborative component in Madagascar was planned. After consultation between International Federation of Agricultural Producers (which is now defunct), AGRINATURA and local partners it was eventually decided to pursue the implementation of the programme.

It is important to underline that the political crisis and its development did not directly affect the implementation of the Malagasy ESFIM component. However, the context was particularly challenging for achieving the objectives pursued by the programme, as lack of political stability meant a lack of adequate incentives for developing a strategy for advocacy. More precisely, the formal state and public decision-making mechanisms were and are still in place in spite of the political transition, but it is obvious that the capacity to implement and enforce any decision is rather weak. This failure, or interruption, of the public decision-making process not only becomes evident in a lack of public resources (the political crisis has resulted in a sharp reduction of foreign aid and economic stagnation), but also exacerbates the incursion of a hidden political agenda into the policy debate, including the one addressed by ESFIM. Furthermore, this lack of public capacity in leading the policy debate places donor institutions (multilateral, foreign and NGOs) at the forefront of the policy dialogue, which can in turn induce other potential distortions or biases in the policy agenda because of the donors’ priorities. However, it should be noted that in spite of these adverse conditions, the public servants forming the intermediate layers of the administration (officers, heads of technical department) have always participated actively in the ESFIM process.

Collaborative research process

In May 2009, a workshop on issue identification was organised, including 40 participants. Approximately 30 participants were members of major farmer organisations in Madagascar, whereas the others came from two ministries (Agriculture and Commerce), the National Agricultural Research Systems, and representatives of major rural development projects (such as the IFAD-funded project: Programme de Soutien aux Pôles de Micro-Entreprises Rurales et aux Economies Régionales PROSPERER). It should be noted that participants from local research institutions did not play a major role in the discussion (there was no participation from the University), illustrating not only the weak links between CPM and research institutions, but also the limited interest of research institutions for collaborating with FOs. Following presentations on key agricultural marketing issues in Madagascar, the workshop combined parallel and plenary sessions to gradually select and rank six priority areas associated with various actions to support the policy dialogue.

Lessons learnt

  • The first lesson learnt from the Malagasy case is that the ESFIM paradigm is less operational in a context in which the public policy formulation process is idled. The Malagasy case also illustrates the need to adjust the thematic area that could stimulate collaboration between farmer organisations and research: farmers’ empowerment in markets might not have the same level of relevance across countries.
  • In terms of collaboration, it is not easy to define the farmer organisations and research institutions’ rationale and objectives: farmer organisations naturally look for research outputs that could easily be put into operation, while research institutions might not have the same priorities. Similarly, research outcomes do not necessarily lead to a clear agenda in terms of action or lobbying, and farmer organisations may have some difficulty in considering such outcomes as useful or practical.
  • ESFIM provided an adequate framework to build up and strengthen interactions between the Malagasy farmer organisations and research institutions. The capacity given to farmer organisations to define the research agenda was key to ensuring their involvement in the whole process. However CPM ownership and mastering of the project was hampered by the human capacity available within the organisation, which was not adequate enough to fully exploit the volume of knowledge accumulated in the studies. In future, it could be valuable to include in such a project a training component for farmer leaders on how a scientific approach and research outcome can improve their position in the policy dialogue. The contribution of research to the FOs’ capacity may not be limited to the formulation of a research agenda for the organisation as a whole but may also be relevant for feeding a debate within the farmer organisations about key issues that may not be mastered enough to formulate a claim at the policy level.