Neoliberal policies have in recent years focused on introducing institutional reform to facilitate and regulate the operation of free markets. It is still assumed that the free market is the best mechanism to achieve efficient and equitable growth, alongside technical prescriptions.
A growing body of research on the political economy of agribusiness and the ways in which agribusiness and geopolitical interests capture world commodity markets is largely ignored within mainstream agricultural development literature on Africa. After 20 years of neoliberal reform in Africa, the same old formulas are dogmatically asserted without critical reflection (see Olukoshi, this IDS Bulletin).
Bates (1981) dealt a telling indictment of the elite basis of state policies in Africa. But his analysis largely focused on abstract models of markets and failed to examine the interventions of the state in agricultural production, which were often based on linkages with agribusiness and aspiring private sector capitalists. The interventions of the state in agriculture served not only to promote patronage but also the development of capitalist agriculture and agribusiness. Bates failed to analyse the interests of agribusiness in expanding into developing country markets. This is an important factor, since the open market policies he advocated play into the interests of agribusiness. This article examines how agricultural markets have been shaped by power relations, often at the expense of the rural poor, and how the organisation of frontiers, transport and input supplies affect export crop, food and agribusiness production.
This article comes from the IDS Bulletin 36.2 (2005) Agricultural Markets in West Africa: Frontiers, Agribusiness and Social Differentiation