African Studies Association Annual Meeting location:Chicago date:13-16 November 2008
The “linking farmers to markets” theme has become very popular among international, governmental and non-governmental agencies who deal with poverty alleviation in Africa. Analysis of recent experiences has shown that producer organizations play a central role in strengthening farmers’ position in traditional and in innovative markets as well as in building their capacities. These organizations are also key actors in defending farmers’ interests and in negotiating with the authorities to foster the development of policies that are more favorable to smallholder farmers. Many development agencies integrate participatory research, information dissemination and capacity building as the most strategic mediation tools to develop these programs together with the farmers’ organizations. The emphasis on the importance of working with farmers organizations in the linking of farmers to markets tends however to overshadow the field of tensions between the functioning of liberal market based economies and the day-to-day economic realities of smallholder farmers. In Senegal, the collapsing of the peanut industry, for decades the major agricultural income earner of the country and of individual farmers, has brought to light the inherent instability of the country’s agricultural economy due to the incompatibility of local versus global values. This paper is based on five years of working with Senegalese farmers’ organizations in poverty alleviation programs focusing on linking farmers to markets. The author uses both economic and anthropological reference frames to analyze her findings, and juxtaposes the logics of global market systems with those of Senegalese smallholder farmers.