contents page
previous next
zoom out zoom in
thumbnails double page single page large double page
fit width
click to zoom in click to zoom in  
contents page
previous next
zoom out zoom in
thumbnails double page single page large double page
fit width

irrelevant: in the industrialized countries barely five per cent of the population now works on the land, whilst the Third World has a huge under-employed rural labour force and little capital. The last thing the Third World needs is United States- and European Community-type agricultural "productivity".

The impression the study gives is one of naivety, hypocrisy and wishful thinking. It states that "agriculture fared well in assistance to developing countries", since its share of total official aid rose from 12 per cent in 19741975 to 18-20 per cent in the early 1980s. It is difficult to understand how the international agency for agriculture can feel that a 20 per cent share of development assistance is satisfactory when the sector represents 50-90 per cent of the economies of most Third World countries and feeding the world is the central theme of the study.

An FAO extension agent explains the economics of fertilizer use to Bolivian farmers. FAO has always emphasized the technical aspects of food production rather than the fundamental social, economic and political reasons for poverty and hunger. (Photo: FAO)

The authors of Agriculture: Toward 2000 recognize that "design and implementation [of price policies] is difficult", but nonetheless state that "producer price policies must ensure that small farmers are fully catered for by the marketing systems through which the policies are applied". This is pure wishful thinking: • First, price policies in Third World countries are nearly

always geared to export crops and cereals, which are not necessarily what small farmers produce; • Second, the administrative capacity of most Third World

countries is so limited that price policies, like many other government policies, simply fail to reach the small and poor farmers; • And third, the experience of industrialized countries with

pricing policies has shown that they cost huge amounts of money, and mostly benefit medium and large farmers. Elsewhere the authors argue that the estimated 780 million people living in absolute poverty in the Third World need off-farm employment. No-one would argue with this. But one cannot help being amazed at the proposal that these impoverished masses "must be given the opportunity to save and invest in local industry"! This is only one of the many contradictory policy statements with which the authors battle throughout the report but which they simply fail to resolve. Other examples abound: • World food production has increased, the study says, yet

the number of malnourished has increased also. This does not deter the authors from stressing that "average per caput food availability for direct human consumption will rise" by the year 2000 or from rejoicing that food self-sufficiency ratios in the developing world will not fall [they will be virtually unchanged]. In both cases, FAO ignores its own oft-repeated argument that it is inadequate access to food

(through production or purchasing power) which keeps people hungry, not its "average availability"; The report complains of inadequate increases in cereal production, yet calls for increases in cereal-fed livestock; The study's central theme is the need to modernize Third World farming, a policy which has everywhere caused farm employment to fall. Yet at the same time, FAO stresses the need to create rural jobs; A call is made for a massive increase in investment of domestic resources in the rural areas, yet in deploring the limited financial resources available to Third World governments to achieve this, the study ignores the fact that it is the unashamed milking of the agricultural sector which provides governments with a sizeable slice of the domestically-generated resources available to them; Inadequate food supplies are pinpointed as a major problem for Third World countries in the coming years; but at the same time, the study calls for a reduction in production in the North so that world market prices can rise and stimulate exports of food from the South; Finally, while the study recognizes the instability of world markets and a sharp decline in agricultural terms of trade, exports remain a major theme: macro-economic policies must start from the right exchange rate, producer returns must be geared to world market prices, solving the debt crisis calls for increased exports and so on.

What Makes FAO Tick? The whole development machine — multilateral and bilateral alike — appears to be engaged in a frantic exercise to develop


The Ecologist, Vol. 21, No. 2, March/April 1991 The Seductive Language of Development

The development industry has mastered the techniques of saying much and meaning nothing. Consider the following extract from a 1984 speech by the then Assistant Director-General for fisheries:

"This programme is based on an integrated approach to the development of small-scale fisheries and the improvement of the socio-economic conditions of communities of artisanal fishermen and their families. It will promote the skills, capacities and potentials of fishing communities, through the active involvement and participation of the fishing villagers in the planning and implementation of management and development activities." To the uninitiated it sounds wonderful. In reality none of it stands up to a critical analysis. It is merely a way of making people believe that the modernization of fishing is designed to help local fishing communities when, in fact, FAO want to modernize fishing to create a market for trawlers, radar and sonar equipment, nylon nets and modern warehouses, and, most importantly, for the expertise which FAO must provide to justify its own existence. The effects upon fisherfolk of modernization are the destruction of their communities, the export of the fish which once fed them, and the overfishing and eventual exhaustion of their local fish stocks.

The techniques used by the development industry's sophisticated propaganda machine have been analyzed by A.F. Robertson. He highlights the language used for selling its policies and stresses that much of its value rests in "its imprecision of meaning". He points out that the "buzz words" which it uses can be "combined into almost infinite permutations and still 'mean' something".

Robertson illustrates his point by listing the 56 words which occurred the most frequently in a planner's lexicon. These are arranged in four different columns of 14 words.


1 Centrally


BMotivated Grass-roots

DInvolvement 1

2 Rationally

Positive Sectoral

Incentive 2

3 Systematically Structured Institutional

Participation 3

4 Formally

5 Totally

Controlled Urban


Integrated Organizational Process


6 Strategically Balanced Rural


7 Dynamically Functional Growth-Oriented Dialogue


8 Democratically Programmed Development Initiative

9 Situationally Mobilized Cooperative



10 Moderately

11 Intensively



Phased Technical

Approach 10



12 Comprehensively Delegated Leadership

13 Radically

14 Optimally

Maximized Agrarian

Consistent Planning



Collaboration 13

Objective 14

One word can be selected at random from each column to compose a four word, typical development phrase. For example, A3, B6, C9 and D12 make "systematically balanced cooperative action." A12, B9, C6 and D3 construct another fine sounding phrase, "comprehensively mobilized rural participation." None of these phrases mean anything yet they are typical of the seductive language which fills the countless speeches, plans, project proposals and glossy pamphlets of the development industry.

Edward Goldsmith

The Ecologist, Vol. 21, No. 2, March/April 1991

project proposals and ship them out to "the field". Having convinced the North's political establishment that increased sums must be injected into development, the machine must then spend the money to justify its existence. Pressures also come from companies supplying everything from rotary harvesters to remote sensing equipment. Contracts awarded to such companies ensure that a sizeable share of the money provided to the Third World for development purposes never leaves the "donor" country.

When an agency receives lower resources than it asks for, it must complain loudly. But when it then receives an unexpected boost in resources (as happened with the International Fund for Agricultural Development's Special Programme for Sub-Saharan Africa in 1986 and FAO's Technical Cooperation Programme in 1989) the pressure is on to spend — or look silly. And so the mad rush for projects goes on.

The concept of "performance" is paramount. Efficiency is judged by the speed with which money is spent: nothing must remain in the kitty at the end of the financial period. As one economist from FAO's Development Department puts it: "The quality of projects is not the concern here. We are expected to process projects as quickly as possible. What counts is quantity, even i f that means funding a badly conceived operation". Another, asked whether a better knowledge of the local people would not improve project design, commented: "We don't have too much time for sociologists and anthropologists around here. They ask too many questions and slow things up".

The disastrous effects of such attitudes is borne out by a candid and exceptionally self-critical staff paper by FAO's Investment Centre, whose job it is to prepare agricultural projects for funding by the multilateral development banks, IF AD and various other aid agencies.9 With regard to project preparation, the report states:

"Most of the suggested approaches to improving the standards of project preparation require that some more time be assigned for the work. It is also likely that, i f the additional analyses were made, they would lead to more cautious assessments of investment requirements and hence to fewer and certainly smaller projects. "As long as the major financing institutions give greater weight in the evaluation of their performance and that of their staff to the number and size of loans advanced rather than to the ultimate results of the investments made, any proposal which increases administrative costs, contributes to delays in meeting loan processing target dates or reduces the size of justifiable loan commitments is not likely to attract the necessary management and financial support. ".. . as long as emphasis is given to speed in preparing projects and the very tight manpower allocations prevail, this wil l inhibit the introduction of any improvements in project preparation techniques and hence continue to: "• reduce the thoroughness with which