Who has the better story? On the narrative foundations of agricultural development dichotomies
This article (PDF) in World Development examines agricultural policy discourses in Senegal to address the use of language in agricultural policy discourses, in spite of increasing evidence that narratives matter for policy-making. There is consensus on the need to promote agricultural development in Africa, however, there is a debate on appropriate policies to achieve this goal. The past two decades there has been a revival of policies that support agriculture in Africa, especially in the form of input subsidies. Such policies have remained highly controversial, reflecting a long-standing dichotomy in agricultural development policy between those who consider subsidies as essential to increase agricultural productivity and those who criticize such state-focused policy instruments and favor market-oriented approaches. After in-depth interviews with policy stakeholders, two opposing advocacy coalitions were identified and labelled as “agricultural support coalition” and “agricultural support critique coalition”. Results show interesting differences: while the agricultural support coalition told a range of straight-forward stories that explain how government support, such as input subsidies, addresses the problem of low agricultural productivity, the opposing coalition formulated their stories mostly in the form of critiques rather than telling equally straight-forward counter-stories. This paper shows that reconciling perspectives on the dichotomies that prevail in agricultural development policy today have remained scarce. There is a need to develop a reconciling perspective on low agricultural productivity in Africa. The dichotomy regarding this problem has led to a deadlock: on the one hand, policy makers continue to implement input subsidy programs that have limited effect in increasing agricultural productivity, but are supported by a strong narrative. On the other hand, agricultural economists and members of international development organizations continue to criticize such input subsidy policies, but they have not succeeded in establishing a strong counter-story or a convincing meta-narrative on what should actually be done to increase agricultural productivity. Paying more attention to the narrative foundations of development dichotomies may help to overcome this deadlock.