West Africa and particularly countries of the Sahel region are once again experiencing food shortages this year, due to poor climatic conditions and also to agricultural policies which continue to prioritise export cash crops to the detriment of food crops.
And yet so much has been said and commitments have been made at national, regional and international levels on food security, sustainable human development and on the alleviation of poverty.
The requirements of globalisation and the debt burden, just to mention these, have forced African Governments to base national and international resources (land, manpower, money, technology and strategies on cash crops. This is not a new development, but it is rather strange when one looks back on past developmental experiences of the continent. One tends to ask if the experiences of the past have been of any use.
The third commitment of the World Food Summit which was organised by the FAO from November 13 through 17, 1996 in Rome, states that "...sustainable and participatory policies and methods of food; agricultural; fishery, forestry and rural development will be pursued to ensure reliable and adequate food supply..."
Participation, supply and food security depends, in the main part, on the organisation of men and women who are the actors and beneficiaries of these policies and strategies.
Implementing this commitment means defining national policies and strategies which take into account the building up of the civil society of which co-operatives and self-help groups constitute a major component.
Though the role of co-operatives and other groups in the agricultural sector is well recognised, their importance and impact on food security needs some analysis and assessment. Analysing the importance and impact of these organisations is of a two-fold interest. It would enable, on the one hand, a better quantitative and qualitative assessment of their role in the area of food security, and on the other hand, help make recommendations and proposals for directing African governments in making their policies and defining their roles.
Such an evaluative analysis needs to be undertaken with the help and participation of the various partners to the issue of food security and self-promotion.
For some years now, international institutions have been developing, diffusing and applying a new concept known as "sustainable human development" which has as its basis, Man as the actor and beneficiary of development actions.
The concept of Sustainable Human Development is part of the creation, at the national level, of an environment which enables the individual to progress, take advantage of his/her universal right to Life and Security.
The right to life and security implies the search for ways and means of acquiring food, employment, education, medicare, civil and political rights. Arriving at or safeguarding all these rights involves organising the population in a conscientious and independent manner.
The notions of self-help, self-organisation, autonomy and independence are underlying principles of co-operatives. Implementing this concept implies, inter-alia, the definition of policies and national strategies which trigger off and enhance the promotion of co-operatives and autonomous and varied groups which are capable of contributing to achieving food security, sustainable human development and poverty alleviation.
Despite the commitments made at the various summits of Copenhagen, Rio, Rome, Beijing, and the acceptance of the new concept of sustainable human development notwithstanding, governments and development partners do not implement or do not sufficiently concretize their support to resultant action plans and to self-help organisations, including the co-operatives, which could ensure their implementation.
Today, everybody is talking about and prioritising the private sector, human rights protection and the promotion of democracy.
Co-operatives are private enterprises which undertake grassroots development actions on their own initiative, something the State is no longer able to do well. Co-operatives are private enterprises which contribute to mobilising national savings (Coopec), an indispensable factor of development which cannot and must not be conceived in terms of subsidies and external loans only. Given the values and principles which they embody and practice, co-operatives are real institutions for learning human rights and practising democracy. For these varied reasons, they need to be granted much more attention, support and consideration.
Co-operatives and globalisation of the economy are the focus of ICA message on this august occasion of the 76th International Co-operatives Day.
Assuming that nobody could avoid or stay out of the globalisation process, it would equally be a certainty that this is not a universal panacea because it comes with prerequisites. Globalisation is like a train in motion. Those who get on board late will remain on the platform, but like all travel, this one entails unknowns, requirements and risks. And as the saying goes, he who rides far secures his saddle.
The State, co-operatives and the other components of the African society must consult each other, get prepared, define objectives and strategies, as well as policies to enable them get on board and benefit, to the full, from the globalisation process.
It will be a failure for co-operatives to get on board the globalisation train in isolation or as separate entities. They must form economic-oriented alliances, groups, unions or federations. The alliance strategies must not favour co-operatives only, but must also take into account movements and organisations which don't call themselves co-operatives but which share with the latter principles, identical features, objectives and common interests.
The ideological oneness underlying the various forms of organisations must be the driving force behind their strategic alliances. The political or economic nature of these alliances will depend on the individual problems and national contexts.
Co-operatives being entities of a whole or a given space, their future well-being in the globalisation process will depend on the capacity and constraints of their environment, in the face of the challenges and requirements of globalisation.
There are however, questions which are difficult to answer or whose responses are not obvious.
First of all, who gains or will gain in the globalisation process? Then comes the question as to whether all individuals, nations and enterprises have actually the same chances, capacities or skills in the globalisation process? And lastly, doesn't globalisation entail the risk of further deepening the ever-widening gap between the peoples of the continents of our planet?