A new vision for agriculture
momagri, movement for a world agricultural organization, is a think tank chaired by Christian Pèes.
It brings together, managers from the agricultural world and important people from external perspectives,
such as health, development, strategy and defense. Its objective is to promote regulation
of agricultural markets by creating new evaluation tools, such as economic models and indicators,
and by drawing up proposals for an agricultural and international food policy.
Point of view

Exchanges between Farmers, Vehicles for Development

Gérard Renouard
President of AFDI

AFDI [Agriculteurs Français et Développement International - www.afdi-opa.org] is an association of French farmers committed to international cooperation for development. It was created in 1975 and today comprises a network of 14 regional associations and 7 departmental associations. It carries out operations both in the South – where in 17 countries, it encourages ongoing discussion between French farmers and those in America, Africa and Asia – and in the North, where it is committed to an agenda of providing information, training and lobbying. Gérard Renouard, the association's president, shares here his perspective on the key role agriculture plays as a driver of development, a view shared by WoAgri.

Should agriculture be considered a traditional economic sector?

Agricultural products are not simply merchandise: because it produces food items, agriculture is a source of life and therefore also part of a society's cultural heritage. It shapes the landscape of a country, contributes to the functioning of ecosystems and helps to regulate the water cycle. It is thus a basic factor of social cohesion… and I have only cited a few of the reasons why this is true.

This means that we cannot allow the world's agricultural systems to be trivialized by globalization and the World Trade Organization (WTO), which is trying to fit them all into the same mold. Whether in the framework of the WTO or in bilateral negotiations, such as the Economic Partnership Agreements,1 the free trade concept is advanced as an axiom that everyone must accept, willingly or not. If we think only in terms of comparative advantage and competitiveness, however, we will be destroying the diversity of family farms in favor of industrial and commercial farming operations alone. In Malaysia, for example, palm oil production is causing primary forest to be sacrificed and drastically disrupting traditions; cash crops are expanding, often to the detriment of staple crops, the environment and local farmers.

Of course, the WTO is a strong organization, and I agree that negotiating the terms of international trade is essential, but some of the principles must be changed. For example, in negotiations for market access, agricultural products should no longer be considered merely as currency for trade with the industrial and service sectors.

The Doha Round, also called the development round, is at an impasse. Does this prove that it is impossible to promote development via a policy of complete liberalization of international trade?

Although history does show that the communists' plan-based policies were a failure, we should not completely preclude government intervention in the agricultural sector and fall into the opposite extreme of liberalizing at full tilt.

Liberalism is a philosophy that can be defended if, in practice, market regulation is not completely eliminated: by removing every agricultural policy and trade barrier, we risk causing serious damage. The WTO is striving to lower customs duties, despite the fact that they constitute significant financial resources for developing countries. But what is the purpose of eliminating these mechanisms when we will simply end up having to replace them with Official Development Assistance – assistance that, for that matter, we are unable to finance?

This is why we need to rethink the terms of international agricultural trade: one possibility is the organization of trade between and within common markets comprised of countries with solid agricultural policies. The foundation may be liberal but, as WoAgri recommends, it should be an enlightened liberalism.

The WTO is stubbornly obsessed with its liberal approach, and I believe that an internal evaluation of the type carried out by the World Bank is essential to help the organization to recognize this fact.2 Even the World Bank is currently changing directions in its strategy, as shown by the organization's latest report on its development policies.3 Indeed, after years of devastating structural adjustment policies pushing privatization, open borders and the elimination of any government intervention, it is rediscovering that development first and foremost requires a solid agricultural base given the range of services that agriculture supplies. First among these is agriculture’s role in food security: if workers in cities do not have enough to eat, a country cannot industrialize. At the same time, pursuing the objective of food security at the lowest possible cost through imports alone only exacerbates the rural exodus, which in turn increases the constant flow of people into cities and leads to rampant urbanization, a main factor behind poverty. With this in mind, local agricultural development becomes an obvious necessity.

And what strategies does AFDI recommend to improve cooperation and development on a regional level?

In many developing countries, regional integration and the implementation of agricultural policy are running up against problems related to national governance, insecurity and a severe lack of domestic infrastructures: it is often easier to trade with Europe overseas than it is with neighboring African countries! Nonetheless, the seeds of several national and regional public policies have been sown; we must help them to grow. Still, we should be wary of handing down agricultural laws from the North to the South, since they can turn out to be useless or even harmful if they are not managed locally.

This is why it is important to bolster professional agricultural associations. They serve not only as sources of knowledge and as crucial local relay points for spreading techniques and training, organizing local trade, and facilitating access to inputs, but also as drivers of social cohesion and economic growth. Nonetheless, any attempt at development through professional organizations is pointless in a situation where the only prevailing approach is that of free competition between countries with highly unequal levels of agricultural competitiveness.

After having been pushed aside completely, these organizations seem to be gaining more and more clout in international negotiations, along with NGOs representing civil society. Through its missions in countries in the South, AFDI is also hoping to support these farmers' organizations so as to promote agricultural and rural development through family farming.

Is that why AFDI exists?

Yes. AFDI is committed to supporting family farming and promoting exchanges between farmers. By pooling their individual and collective experience, farmers will be able to innovate to improve their working and living conditions. These exchanges will allow everyone involved, namely farmers both in France and in the South, to open their minds to new ideas and lay the groundwork for a lasting partnership between professional organizations, not only between the North and the South but also between countries in the South. The development of farmer exchanges arranged by AFDI is facilitated by capitalizing on the network of farmers' initiatives made available to professional organizations. Most of AFDI’s members are farmers, but the association also includes individuals who are active in rural settings (technicians, instructors, journalists, local elected officials), all of whom support cooperation between small farmers, drivers of development in both the North and the South.

1 Since late 2003, the European Union (EU) and the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries have been involved in a negotiation process to define the terms for setting up free trade zones between the EU and six regional blocks of ACP countries. See the articles on this topic published on the site.
2 In December 2006, the World Bank released the results of an audit evaluating the quality of its research and projections. For more information, read the editorial by Jacques Carles entitled When the World Bank Questions its Own Model, published on the site on January 15, 2007.
3 Lire à ce sujet l’article intitulé La Banque Mondiale veut mettre « l’agriculture au service du développement », publié le 22.10.07 dans la rubrique Analyses et Commentaires.
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Paris, 16 June 2019