A statement by a leader of a farmers’ organisation
(Rôle et place des organisations paysannes dans la coopération UE/Cameroun. Témoignage d’un leader paysan)
02 / 1999
In an interview we had with a farmers’ leader, in charge of the CFPC (Conseil des Fédérations Paysannes du Cameroun, "Council of Farmers’ Federations in Cameroon"), we asked him to state his point of view regarding the position and the function of farmers’ organisations (FOs)of ACP countries within the framework of the Lomé Convention. Hereafter is a summary of his answer :
"Two months ago, we knew nothing whatsoever about the Lomé Convention. I only began to form a clear idea of "Lomé" when I was invited to participate in an "Exchange Workshop" in France, with farmers from ACP countries and their European counterparts in the framework of the Convention.
Indeed, one must acknowledge that we, ACP farmers, suffer from a serious lack of information concerning the Lomé agreements. I must confess that in order to take part in the Exchange meeting, we had to ask an NGO official who works with us to explain clearly what the Lomé Convention was. So you see, if you had asked me the same question two months ago, I would have been unable to answer.
FOs have a part to play in the Lomé Convention. In our country, farmers represent approximately 75 % of the population. They have gathered in FOs that defend their interests. In order to carry out this mission successfully, these FOs should be recognised as equal participants in discussions and taken into account according to their mass representativeness. Co-operation actions in favour of the farming sector should take into consideration the expectations of the people concerned: therefore FOs should also serve as a bridge between their rank and file members and decision-makers at the top of the state. In my view, FOs should be appreciated at their full value and as equal partners in Co-operation process. They should be allowed to speak for themselves. If one recognises that they have a role to play in Co-operation, they should take part in defining the options which will be implemented. I think that Co-operation will be more efficient if farmers are no longer treated as mere recipients of development policies of which they do not know the ins and outs. They should participate in the definition and orientation of these policies.
On the other hand, I recognise that FOs must still meet quite a few challenges in order to play a leading part in the Lomé Convention. They must, in particular, consolidate their organisational structure and establish horizontal collaboration links (between FOs of the same country and between FOs of different ACP countries). Perhaps this a prerequisite if they wish to acquire an influence that will allow them to speak out as equal partners."
The farmers’ movement began to develop its organisational structure in 1990. It has not completed its consolidation process on a national level, but has already created strong entities throughout the country. Indeed if farmers organisations have a part to play in the EU/ACP Co-operation framework, the Convention should open up to the expression of the social forces they represent. To meet the challenge of liberalisation in the farming sector, the Convention should also be an instrument available to the farmers’ organisations of ACP countries. It is not sufficient to grant aids and support to agricultural development strategies; it is also necessary to develop the ability of the farmers to manage agricultural networks themselves - by emphasising vocational training.
As regards the Convention, integrating farmers’ organisations involves major challenges such as:
* the emergence of a new power which might take the place of certain state institutions, a risk which explains the unfavourable reaction on the part of the government and its lack of concern in this matter.
* the unbalanced relationship of forces between the farmers’ organisations of the ACP countries and their Northern counterparts might destabilise Co-operation mechanisms because the demands of the Southern farmers will no longer conform with the current strategy which was designed without their participation. Once they are involved in the game, they might upset the current system. Is that a reason to refuse to involve them? We believe that the answer is no.
Interview with a leader of the CFPC.
[[Written for the public debate "Actors and processes of the cooperation", which could feed the next Lome Convention (European Union/ACP countries relations). This debate, animated by the FPH, has been started by the Cooperation and Development Commission of the European Parliament and is supported by the European Commission.]