The Role of Intermediate Organizations:
Agricultural Professional Organizations and Farmers' Associations
Civil society is destined to play a more important role in a new political and economic context from now on. To play this role it needs to organize itself and build up its capacity, which was weakened by its being kept out of decision-making organs, and its political and economic marginalization during the past decades.
The professionalization of agriculture is one action that contributes toward privatization and the strengthening of civil society. This objective is to give farmers the place they deserve in civil society, in easing their access to the economic process, to markets from which they were excluded , and in integrating their activities into the general economy.
Professionalization of agriculture is the long term process of structuring the agricultural profession, and comprises:
- On the one hand, the restructuring of agricultural organizations like cooperatives and pre-cooprative groups, to turn them into profitable and efficient, professional units, freely managed by farmers;
- On the other, the establishment of new types of organizations, whose mission would be to represent farmers and to participate on their behalf, in the formulation and implementation of rural development policies and programs.
Farmers' associations have been created or restructured within the framework of restructuring actions taken thus far. For farmers, these are an institutional model, a mouthpiece and a tool for participating in the new policies.
Principles that should Govern Farmers' Associations
Farmers' Associations should be governed by the following basic principles:
- Professionalism: that is, only agricultural producers, such as livestock farmers, foresters, fishermen, etc. can be represented by these organizations
- Universality: anyone or any organization with a legal status satisfying the criteria set forth by statutes on agricultural producers, is automatically a member of the association.
- Representation of all categories of farmers: each category of farmers in the different production systems must be represented and can express its point of view, to be taken into account in analyzing problems and agricultural policy proposals. This principle leads to the establishment of colleges corresponding to categories of farmers. You might have a college for women for example, for shepherds or for any other category.
- Autonomy: the freedom of farmers' associations to choose their development goals, their action programs, and the management of their resources, without external interference.
- Decentralization: the whole system of representation and decision-making process must come from below. This decentralization is the necessary condition for the effective participation of farmers and for the consideration of local realities. The decentralization of farmers' associations does not mean they should be dispersed. The institutional set-up for representation should be conceived as a set of decentralized structures, a national network which facilitates exchanges and cooperation between them and reinforces the whole system of representation vis- à-vis public and private partners.
- Incompatibility between representation mission and commercial activity: farmers' associations should in no circumstances carry out commercial transactions with member farmers.
Functions of Farmers' Associations
The basic mission of farmers' associations is to represent farmers, in order to ensure their participation in the formulation and implementation of policies and agricultural development actions. The accomplishment of this mission is based on three principal functions:
- information and training of farmers
- support for professional organization of farmers
Although recognized by law as the official interlocutors of the government, farmers associations do not have a monopoly of this function; other actors can carry out these functions. The role of farmers' associations in this case is to facilitate dialogue between all those who exercise these functions on behalf of farmers.
Consultation consists of, on the one hand, communicating farmers' view of their situation and that of the agricultural sector, and on the other, participating in the formulation of agricultural policy and the options to be considered in rural development.
This function is exercised first in relation to the state: it is to inform the government of the situation of different categories of farmers, of their assessment of economic measures taken by the government. It should give farmers' associations the right to sit in all decision-making bodies examining agricultural questions, from the local to the national level. It should also make it compulsory to consult them before making any decision on equipment, programs, land development, and industry location, in order to protect farming land and natural resources.
To properly exercise this function, farmers' associations should have the capacity to have:
- obtain up-to-date information on production channels, the different categories of farmers, and to analyze the micro and macroeconomic factors which determine their activities;
- formulate, with the participation of farmers, proposals to improve the condition of different categories of farmers, and production channels;
- communicate and assert the point of view and proposals of farmers in all bodies and at all levels, to the government and its partners in other professions.
The information function of farmers'associations is directed to three types of public, the aim being to facilitate the integration of farmers into markets, the improvement of the quality of life of rural areas, and to ensure a better balance between towns and the countryside.
In this spirit, it is aimed first of all at farmers, to enable them to direct their activities according the requirements of markets, and adapt them to the current economic and regulatory context. At the same time it must be able to aid farmers to improve their managerial and organizational capacity (to make better production and investment choices), and to make them more competitive on the market. It must also improve the know-how of farmers beyond training provided by specialized institutions. To this end, farmers' associations should have data banks on agro-climatic, economic, technical, commercial, and regulatory conditions, constantly updated and easily accessible to farmers and technicians who advise them. Their contents must relate to local agricultural activity and must be widely disseminated, using all the verbal, written and audiovisual means currently available, and communicated in a way that responds to the requirements of each category of farmers.
On a broader level, the information function is aimed at rural populations, through the most accessible media for them. For example, rural radio stations, which farmers' associations should launch and manage with the participation of different groups, adapting programs to each group's specificity.
It is also aimed at the government, and economic partners of farmers in the public and private sectors, and especially professional organizations of other sectors, like the Chamber of Commerce, and Artisan Associations. The objective is to inform them about the condition of the rural sector, about its problems and priorities, on its wishes and proposals, so that they can take actions favorable to the agricultural sector. This type of information is meant to facilitate the integration of agricultural activities with those of other economic sectors, and a better balance between towns and rural areas. For this purpose, all existing media must be used, with priority given to inter-professional informational and consultation meetings, and to meetings devoted to the study of topical issues in agriculture.
Professional Organization of Farmers: Support Function
It is incumbent on farmers to create their organizations themselves, and to contribute thus to the professionalization of agriculture, the basis for their participation in development and perfect integration into the market economy.
It is recognized that professional farmers' organizations are important civil society actors and that their development contributes toward its strengthening. On this basis, they acquire an important role in the privatization process by providing institutional formulae, which are decentralized and adapted to the specificity of the agricultural milieu, and which require the participation of farmers.
For farmers' associations, this function is carried out by following and analyzing the situation of agricultural organizations, and proposimg political and legislative measures in favor of the development of their activities. It also gets them the advise they need by mobilizing the necessary support from existing public and private institutions. This function and the information and training function go hand in hand. Both functions seek to extend and reinforce structuring at all levels of the agricultural world, and to aid farmers, especially younger farmers and women to create a framework suitable for the improvement of their activities.
Institutional Organization of Farmers' Associations
The organization of farmers' associations comprises two types of structures:
- Elected organs which represent farmers and which are solely entitled to speak on their behalf. They have responsibility for institutional type of activity that they assume with the support of technical and operational organs. They have all decision-making powers with regard to the management of associations, the choice of goals and action programs, use of funds, policy and agricultural development proposals to fight for, in dealing with the government and private partners.
Elected organs are defined in the laws creating farmers' associations. Their characteristics, their powers, the rules governing their operations are the same for all associations. Their composition could depend on the composition of farmer populations in any region.
- The technical and operational organs are under the authority of the elected organs. Their mission is to assist the latter in the realization of their objectives, activity programs, in the management of their funds, and in preparing agricultural development policy proposals.
The technical and operational organs are the technico-administrative structure of the associations. They might have similar structures for tasks that are the same among all associations, like financial management and making information available to farmers. They could have different structures, unequal means, depending on regional characteristics.
The farmers' association is composed of all farmers and their organizations. The sovereign and constituent organs of a farmers' association are formed by their elected members (grass-roots elections), and represent different categories of farmers and professional organizations of the jurisdiction.
To defend the point of view and interests of farmers, farmers' associations must be present at the regional or provincial level, and at the national level, since both are strategic decision-making levels. The general set-up is: decentralized and autonomous farmers' associations constituting a lively network, and a federation of regional associations managing activities at the national level.
Forming Regional Farmers' Associations
For compatibility with decentralization and to reflect the diversity of local agriculture, regional farmers' associations have several tiers: local, intermediate and national.
- At the local level, each grassroots unit (the village, normally) meets as a grass-roots assembly of farmers. This assembly designates three representatives for each of the existing colleges. Each college corresponds to a sector of activity : grain farming, livestock rearing, forestry, fishing, etc., or to a category of production. These colleges are determined along agro-ecological zones, and a classification done at grass-roots level with the participation of farmers, to reflect their diversity.
- At the intermediate level, all the grass-roots representatives form the assembly of the intermediate level, which is between the local level and the regional or provincial level. This assembly elects its canton, district or prefecture delegates (depending on terms used in a particular country).
- At the regional or provincial level, all of the delegates form the Assembly of the Regional Farmers' Association, which also comprises the elected representatives of professional agricultural organizations (cooperatives or trade unions) of different levels, credit and agricultural insurance mutual funds.
The assembly elects the executive board, the president and vice-president of the regional farmers' association. These officers represent farmers, speak on their behalf, and manage the regional farmers association, to realize its objectives. The management of the regional farmers' association is under the control of the assembly, which adopts the activity programs and budgets, translates the point of view of farmers on important questions that concern them, after consultations at grass-roots level, and evaluates the management accomplishments of the executive board.
The Network and the National Federation of Regional Farmers' Associations
The network is institutionalized in the form of a National Federation of Farmers' Associations, responsible for coordinating and running the activities of the network at national level. Its existence in no way impinges upon the decentralized and autonomous nature of the Regional Associations, from which it is derived, and over which it has no supervisory powers to the extent that it is the regional associations that determine its activities and finance its operations.
The federation has a light structure consisting of an executive board, the presidents of the regional farmers' associations, who elect a president and vice-presidents. On the basis of the synthesis of points of view expressed by regional associations, the board formulates the common position to be defended at national level, within decision-making bodies, and with the government and other public and private partners of farmers. Also, it manages the federation and the actions or common projects of several regional associations. To remain close to their grass-roots organizations, the executives of the federation continue to carry out their responsibilities as presidents of regional associations.
The federation has an important information role, first toward farmers, informing them on their national and international economic environment, then toward the government, apprising it of farmers' point of view, and finally toward external partners, to develop cooperation with agricultural professions of other countries. In this regard, all actions are coordinated with actions of regional associations. The federation must use all existing means, making an effort to arrange frequent meetings with farmers.