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Pergamon
World Development,
Vol. 24, No. 1, pp. 97-l
11,1996
Copyright 0 1995 Elsevier Science LtdPrinted in Great Britain. All rights reserved0305-750X/96 $15.00 + 0.00
0305-750x(95)00119-0
Deagrarianization and Rural Employment insub-Saharan Africa: A Sectoral Perspective
DEBORAH FAHY BRYCESON”
African Studies Centre, Leiden, The Netherlands
Summary. -
Sub-Saharan Africa is steadily becoming less rural in character. For decades developmentthinking has prescribed industrialization as the virtuous path leading away from economic dependenceon agriculture. But Africa’s industrial record has been plagued with underperformance. An alternativeperspective centered on the process of “deagrarianization” and attendant rural employment generationmay offer more explanatory power and policy direction. This paper outlines key theoretical componentsand practical concerns of a deagrarianization approach. The nature and incidence of deagtianization insub-Saharan Africa is contrasted with that experienced in developed industrial countries. Conceptualapproaches dealing with rural non-agricultural employment are identified within different social sciencedisciplines through a thematic review of the literature. The conclusion highlights the need for morefocused study of the deagrarianization process and rural service sector development.1. INTRODUCTIONOver the past decade, several studies have pointedto the importance of nonagricultural employment forrural households in sub-Saharan Africa.’ The signifi-cance of nonagricultural rural employment (NARE)relates to its growth as a substantial proportion of totalhousehold labor time and its contribution to householddisposable income. The view that African farmers arestrictly self-sufficient, subsistence-based producershas long been discarded. Rather the image of peasanthouseholds producing “subsistence” and “cash” cropshas held sway in most of the policy-oriented literature.“Off-farm” activities have tended to be conceptual-ized as by-the-way, often seasonal in nature, or pur-sued by marginal groups such as female heads ofhouseholds engaged in beer brewing. On the otherhand, nonagricultural activities hold a center stageposition in development project work, income-gener-ating projects for women being the prime example. Ascash-earning activities, however, they are usually con-ceived as supplementary to, rather than in place of,farming efforts. Now it is beginning to become evi-dent that NARE are in fact a desirable, if not a neces-sary,
alternative to farming
for certain categories ofpeople in a number of places. It is worth consideringsome of the reasons why this may be the case.past 50 years which might generate a supply of laborfor NARE, one is immediately aware of the influenceof population growth. The increasing population den-sity of most rural areas has, in many cases, led to con-straints on land availability. The economic crisis ofthe past decade and a half, and the structural adj@st-ment programs (SAP) that have followed, have causeda contraction of urban employment opportunities forwould-be rural emigrants. In some instances retUrnmigration has been observed or is contemplated byurban residents? Due to investment in primary andsecondary education many of the youth now remain-ing in the countryside are more educated than theirparents’ generation and often less satisfied with astrictly agrarian work life.Similarly, fundamental changes in rural communi-ties have, it could be argued, influenced demand forNARE. In the transition from long forest fallow toshorter bush fallow agricultural systems characteristicof most rural areas, shifting settlement patterns havegiven way to the establishment of permanent villa$es.Houses, roads, mills, and other village infrastruc!urehave been built which have generated employmeflt inconstruction, operation and maintenance. Because ofLooking at changes in rural communities over the*Final revision accepted: June 28, 1995.97
 
98 WORLD DEVELOPMENT
the increase in rural population density, there is nowpressure on the availability of natural resources aswell as land. Fuel wood and water supplies, that hadalways been “free goods” as far as the community wasconcerned, have become scarce and sometimesassume a cash value with respect to their procurementand transport. Thus a “renewable” consumer goodsmarket has arisen in some rural areas. Furthermore,under structural adjustment programs, governmentand parastatal provisioning of rural social services andproductive infrastructure, as well as wholesale andretail marketing services have been severely curtailed,often leaving demand suspended until a local marketresponse is mustered. Rural demand for health, educa-tion, agricultural marketing services and productiveinputs, basic consumer goods as well as water, energyand transport infrastructure all provide entry points forthe development of NARE.Surveys reveal that food purchases still dominatehousehold budgetary expenditure in most rural areas.3This is more often a reflection of food insecurity thanan outcome of specialization in nonfood production.Food purchases represent the development of marketexchange in the realm of basic needs provisioning.They undoubtedly have an effect on local-level socialattitudes and economic organization, often undermin-ing more communal-based food/service exchanges.This creates the conditions for the gradual evolutionof markets in other basic needs and nonagriculturalgoods and services.Since Adam Smith to the present, the expansion ofnonagricultural activities has been primarily seen interms of a changing relationship between agricultureand industry. Most of the development policy debateof the last 40 years has centered on the “right” rela-tionship between the two, i.e. whether agriculture orindustry is the lead sector, or alternatively whether itis possible to engender a balanced development ofthem both simultaneously. The overpowering influ-ence of this debate is demonstrated by the way nona-gricultural rural employment activities are commonlyreferred to as “rural” or “small-scale industries.”Generally such activities are viewed positively, withtheir potential for stimulating industrial and/or agri-cultural development being vigorously debated inlight of their forward and backward linkages to agri-culture and urban-based industry.“ Drawing back afew steps from this perspective, one could askwhether this economic sectoral development modelhas been presumptuously imposed on sub-SaharanAfrica.It is now widely accepted that the industrial devel-opment record of sub-Saharan Africa over the pasttwo decades has been abysmal? Only 0.8% of theworld’s Manufacturing Value Added (MVA) in 1986came from sub-Saharan Africa, and the continentaccounted for an even smaller proportion of worldmanufacturing exports (0.2%). With respect to otherdeveloping countries, the statistics are only margin-ally greater: 3.8% of MVA and 1.5% of total exports !The import-substitution industries that were estab-lished in the 1960s and 1970s only survived with highrates of protection. Economic crisis in the 1980s ledindustries to have to cut back on production and staff,such that many were operating at a fraction of theirfull capacity.’ Even before the economic crisis andSAP cutbacks, the lack of sufficient productive infra-structure, engineering skills and the prevalence of anonindustrial work culture, had taken their toll onindustrial performance. Maintenance of factoryequipment, informed marketing strategies and prod-uct distribution were all severely deficient. In retro-spect, it is questionable whether the new buddingindustries of sub-Saharan Africa ever had a chance to“catch up” and compete successfully with industrialpowers who industrialized a century before.The industrialization development strategy hasbeen discredited for exogenous reasons as well. Theenvironmental critique of the Western industrializa-tion model has gained momentum over the decade.Many maintain that Western countries must opt for aless industrial-output obsessed approach, and thatnations of a semi-industrial or agrarian nature cannotfollow the Western path without dire consequencesfor the world’s ecology. In any case, developments intechnology and communications have made old-stylemass factory production an obsolete objective. Nowattention is focused on “flexible specialization” as amore decentralized, “high-tech” production approachwhich many industrial countries are now enthusiasti-cally pursuing. Thus, the Western industrial model asapplied to Africa is largely in a state of disregard for avariety of endogenous and exogenous reasons.Given this revision of development thinking, it isin order to question the superimposition of an indus-trial development model in the first place. Much of theproindustry debate of the 1960s and 1970s assumedthat investment in factories and work force recruit-ment in itself constituted the achievement of industri-alization. The need for a material foundation and thegradual evolution of an industrialization process withall its social, economic and physical implications wererarely considered. Thus, the debate is now couched interms of “industrial failure.Too often in the past,industrialization studies in Africa have attempted toanalyze a
projected consequence
rather than an actualongoing developmental processes. Alternatively, byadopting a
deugrariunizution
perspective, the analyti-cal focus is inverted. Sectoral development can bestudied as a process of unravelling and reformulationwithout a determinable industrial outcome.The purpose of this article is to not to provideexhaustive empirical data proving the conceptualvalidity of deagrarianization. Rather the central con-cern is to examine trends and tendencies in very broadcontinental terms, as well as identify directions of
 
DEAGRARIANIZATION AND RURAL EMPLOYMENT99
enquiry in the existing literature of a variety of socialscience disciplines, which shed light on the deagrari-anization process.2. THE CHANGING SECTORAL BALANCE INAFRICA(a)
Defining deagrarianization and sectoralboundaries
Deagrarianization is defined as a process of: (i)economic activity reorientation (livelihood), (ii) occu-pational adjustment (work activity), and (iii) spatialrealignment of human settlement (residence) awayfrom agrarian patterns. Overt and measurable mani-festations of this process are: a diminishing degree ofrural household food and basic needs self-sufficiency,a decline in agricultural labor relative to nonagricul-tural labor in rural households and in total nationallabor expenditure, a decrease in agricultural outputper capita in the national economy relative to non-agricultural output, and a shrinking proportion of thetotal population residing in rural areas. These are alltendenciesobservable throughoutsub-SaharanAfrica.It is helpful to delineate sectoral categories.
Agriculture,
the so-called primary sector, is the easiestto define. It consists of plant and animal husbandryactivities resulting in the production of raw materialswhich are directly consumed or exchanged by its pro-ducers. In the sub-Saharan African context the bulk ofagricultural activities are pursued by multipurposesmallholder household units. This involves a largeproportion of nonmarket, self-provisioning activities,labeled the “subsistence sector,” whose nature andextent are difficult to measure accurately.By contrast, the secondary sector,
industry
refersto mass production of consumer and producer goodsby “collective workers.” Such workers are occupa-tionally specialized laborers in factory organizationswhich produce on the basis of science and technologi-cal advances spurred by the competitive forces of theworld market. This sector does not embrace any non-market economic activities. All production is destinedfor market sale or investment.While different analysts vary their definitions ofthe agricultural and industrial sectors, the tertiary sec-tor, otherwise known as the service sector, is almostalways a residual category consisting of anything thatis not categorized as agricultural or industrial. Toavoid this method of categorization,
services are
defined restrictively as value-added production ofgoods and activities provisioned by either public orprivate economic agents. In the private sector, thisrefers to goods and services which meet an individual-ized (as opposed to industrial mass product) demandinvolving customized supply, largely contingent onspecific delivery locations and timing. Public sectorservices embrace administration, transport and energyprovisioning for goods and service exchange flows.Thus, the service sector is generally two-tiered with aprivate domain of activities functioning in the infra-structural context of the public-operated domain.Above all, the distinguishing feature of the servicesector is not any disassociation from agriculture orindustry per se, but its delivery characteristic, i.e.ready accessibility of goods and services tailored tothe mobility and time constraints of clients.(b)
Incidence oj’deagrarianization in sub-SaharanAffica
Deagrarianization, as defined above, is not aprocess peculiar to sub-Saharan Africa. Quite the con-trary, over the course of this century, virtually allnations have been involved in this process, some hav-ing reached more advanced stages than others. Whilenot all aspects of deagrarianization are measurable,statistics on sectoral allocation of the labor force andpercentages of national population living in ruralareas, and the proportion of GDP arising from agricul-ture are good indicators of the extent of deagrarianiza-tion in any country. Table 1 provides some interesoinginsights. Worldwide, the percentage of people livingin rural areas declined from 66% to 55% duaing1960-90.8 In industrialized countries the comparablestatistics are far lower, i.e. from 39% to 27%. Slub-Saharan African rural populations have a higher start-ing point of 85% declining to 69% in 1990.’Labor force participation statistics are alwiaysfraught with definitional problems related to how igdi-vidual countries sectors’ are delineated and how laborforce participation is construed. Bearing this in mind,comparisons from data in Table 1 can be made withreference to the period between 1965 and 1986-84. Inthe world as a whole, agricultural labor shrank fuom57% to 49% of the total labor force, with industrialcountries registering a decline from 22% to 11% com-pared with a decrease from 79% to 68% in sub-Saharan countries. It should be noted that the indus-trial labor force did not increase in inverse proportionto the agricultural decline. No clear tendency emerges.The world’s industrial labor force registers a smalldecrease from 19% to 16% of the total. Industrialcountries evince what some economists call “deindus-trialization”‘”with a proportional decline of industriallabor from 36% to 27%. Meanwhile the proportion insub-Saharan Africa stagnated at 8% between 1965 and1986-89. Thus sub-Saharan Africa’s industrial laborforce accounts for only between a quarter and one-third of that found in industrialized countries.According to the World Bank statistics, in 1465,the percentage of total GDP derived from agriculturewas lo%, 5% and 40% for the world, industrialized

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