Monday, 9 July 2012

The Westernization of Development

Welcome to my thought zone, and in this weeks edition I am going start talking about the the effect of western culture and values on development. 

Warning - these opinions are based off of my own observations and assumptions and may not hold true, but this is how I see it!

So, this week I am going to be talking about the differences between western and traditional agriculture and the way that markets operate. 

The biggest difference is in the marketing and sale of products.  In Western nations farmers and producers sell to large scale buyer corporations who then either process the goods themselves into something for mass scale sales, or act as middle men in order to facilitate the scale to large processing companies.  Due to the large number of purchasers available this has caused a relatively level market for crops, and no wide variance in crop prices.  The 30 year average price for wheat is 208.9USD / ton with a 5 year average at 366.58USD / ton.  The rate of change is at +0.40%, and +1.16% per year respectively.  This price change showed a weak correlation to the changes in Canada's CPI, but a correlation none the less.
This is a very small area of the larger Goaso market

Now, lets look at some Ghanaian crop markets.  The cocoa prices show many similarities to Canada's markets - this is because cocoa is an import crop, and the sale is controlled by a government body - the Cocoa Board (think wheat board).  The cocoa board sets the price per bag of cocoa based on the projected market price per ton, and that is what the PCs buy the cocoa for.  This is where the similarities start to grow.

In traditional market situations farmers grow crops, and then transport and sell the crops in an open market - just see the picture.  There are stalls selling the exact same goods all around - and from experience the prices for the products do not vary too much from stall to stall (bartering is a must in most cases - but the 'last' price is pretty much the same plus or minus half a cedei).  The issues in this system come in when you take into account the amount of time required for these activities! You cannot go to work on the farm, or do other things because you are stuck in the market all day trying to sell your goods, and if you do not sell the goods some of them may spoil soon before you may sell them.  The market style can also result in a large surplus of goods in agricultural areas with no way to transport the goods to larger markets.

Another word for plantain is 'future fufu'
To combat the need to take your own crops to market and crop transport a group of middlemen may form, and they take the roll of buying in bulk from farmers, and then transporting the goods to a larger market.  This system is broken.  Some farmers see no other options for selling their goods, to the point where they will have few choices other than to sell to the middlemen for a very low price.  Take the price of plantains for example.  This bunch of plantain currently sold for 13 GhC in the village because it is not the main harvest season and supply is down.  During harvest the price drops down to 3-5 GhC for the same bunch.  People have no choice than to sell to the middlemen who take the crop to larger markets, and they can only sell for around 2GhC per bunch.

Tractor farming in forests... not a good idea
Another big difference is in the way that the crops are produced.  Farming in Ghana and farming in Canada are two completely different ball games - it is hardly even the same sport!  In my area the farm is usually around 2 acres, with some farmers having more or less.  Tractors are used somewhat in the north but is impractical in the south because of the amount of trees.  This results in large amounts of manual labor on farms, and a huge time commitment. 

Now, what is the solution to this process.  Is it to create a western market where the buying companies can keep prices regulated?  Is it to create large scale industrial farms with more automation? 

The first problem with creating a new farming standard would be the shift in the amount of labor required for a farm.  If you think of a Canadian farm - lets say it is two sections.  That is 1280 acres.  If we say that a family of five laborers each have 2 acres of land to produce.  This 1280 acres would represent 640 workers, or 128 families.  If farmers were able to use large machinery like in Canada and farm more an equivalent amount of land that would mean that 127 families would need to find new sources of income.  For every four sections.  With estimates of Ghana's farm land sitting at around 155000 sq. km - or 38,301,334 acres.  In Western farming, assuming two sections per family, this would accommodate 29,923 farming families.  Assuming 10 acres per family this would mean that 3,800,210 families would need to find new sources of income.  I think that it is pretty clear that 'western' farming is not the answer to this problem.

So much choice! I look for the one with the biggest smile

Now, looking towards the markets.  If a western buying scheme were in place you would have to set up a new infrastructure for transportation, as well as new selling system in order to accommodate the sale and purchase of goods on a large scale.  In order to keep the farmers from being abused by the system and left with low prices you would either need a governing body to control the sale (like the cocoa board) or a system to empower the farmers towards having more control over the bulk price of goods.

This is where a I think the market can be built upon.  A good mix which builds on the traditional markets that people are familiar with, and being able to connect the farmers directly to purchasers, where purchasers can give a buying price right to the farmers - hopefully cutting out the middlemen's control of the pricing, and resulting in a fair price for farmers.  How could this be done?  Through mobile phones, through purchasing clerks (just like cocoa), or through increased transportation infrastructure. 

So, now what are your thoughts on western impacts on development?  How can you see the markets being developed in a way that builds on the current culture, instead of replacing it?  Any other answers to questions I can't think of right now?

Bonus picture!!! This is something I think would be kind of cool and a good idea to get comments!
The first person (back in Canada - sorry JFs) to guess what kind of animal is in this picture wins some sort of prize I will buy in Ghana.
I will give you one hint - I saw it in Mole

Anyways, thanks for reading!


  1. This is a really great post Nathan, nice work! I love how you really dove into the comparison, raised the point that simply aspiring to western methods of farming is not the answer, then proposed some solution ideas. Very brave, and you did a great job!

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