wiser today

A man should never be ashamed to own that he is wrong, which is but saying in other words that he is wiser today than he was yesterday.

Robert Bates

Markets and States in Tropical Africa

Several features of the agricultural programs of the states of Africa can be attributed to the quest for political support. One of these is the preference for production schemes as opposed to pricing policies in the attempt to secure greater food supplies. Another is the structure of these production programs—their number, their location, and their staffing.

Positive pricing policies are politically unattractive to African governments seeking greater food production. Their political costs are high in terms of loss of support in the urban areas; and their political benefits are low in terms of their ability to secure support from the countryside—or at least they are low by comparison with those which can be secured from the allocation of production projects. Were the governments of Africa to confer a price rise on all rural producers, the political benefits would be low; for both supporters and dissidents would secure the benefits of such a measure, with the result that it would generate no incentives to support the government in power. The conferral of benefits in the form of public works projects, such as state farms, on the other hand, has the political advantage of allowing the benefits to be selectively apportioned. The schemes can be given to supporters and withheld from opponents. Project-based policies, as opposed to pricing-based policies, are thus relatively attractive from the point of view of organizing a rural constituency in support of the government in power. Governments can choose where to locate such schemes. They can also choose with whom to staff them. Both decisions offer opportunities for organizing political support.

The importance of political motivations is suggested in features of the state farm programs in Western Nigeria and Ghana. In both cases (reported by Wells and Dadson, respectively), the programs 'over-expanded': state farms were provided for every electoral district! By most accounts, this decision crippled the programs from an economic point of view; having so many farms meant that too few resources were provided for each, with the result that most operated inefficiently. But, from a political point of view, structuring the programs so as to provide a state farm in each constituency made available to government backers in each district public resources with which to organize support of the government in power. Moreover, within each district, the state farms were often poorly located, again from the point of view of maximizing production. A principal reason for this, apparently, was a desire to put them in areas where they would provide a 'public works' benefit to the supporters of the government in power.