In Ethiopia, rural development requires imprisonment
By Sabine Planel
February 14, 2017
In Ethiopia, prison reveals surprising uses. The imprisonment is used for "developmental" purposes, to use the terminology of the ruling Democratic Revolutionary Front (EPRDF) party. For the public authorities, it must make it possible to improve the repayment capacity of indebted peasants to the Ministry of Agriculture. Indeed, farmers often purchase, on credit, fertilizer as part of state agricultural modernization programs. For the peasants, this system perpetuates in renewed forms the authoritarian practices of civil servants.
Mana is a Wolayta peasant from southern Ethiopia. It operates approximately 2,000 m2 of land, where it grows mainly cereals and legumes for family consumption. With only one head of cattle and a land too small, he struggles to feed a family of five children, and obviously can not be profitable.
The "fertilizer debt" In the context of chronic food insecurity, it is not among the most vulnerable of its neighbors, who account for about one third of the rural population.But Mana is suffering from a growing problem in rural Ethiopia: the "debt of fertilizer", which individually does not exceed one hundred euros, but concerns millions of peasants. This debt burdens their budget, constrains their agricultural management, and reveals once again the authoritarian and coercive face of the power in place. For the poorest and most vulnerable of these destitute small farmers, the purchase of fertilizers on credit is therefore practiced under constraint.
And sometimes the situation becomes complicated. Mana had the bitter experience. In 2013, he bought a hundredweight of fertilizer from the farming cooperative, which he repaid after the big harvests of September - in a single payment, a sign of relative prosperity. He thought he had paid off his debt, but the development agents then asked him to repay further, arguing that he had ordered two quintals and not one. They produced, before witnesses, a document that he had not signed, but that others had certified on his behalf.
Refusing to pay, Mana was taken by the armed militia of the commune to the police station. He remained for three weeks in the communal prison, without trial or formal administrative decision. Despite his attempts to plead his innocence and blame his jailers, he had to sell a calf to pay off the rest of the credit and get out of jail.
Since then, he has no longer participated in these agricultural extension programs and managed to withstand the demands of development agents, unlike many of his neighbors. In order to escape the credit, he buys cash in small quantities on the black market and takes him back home at nightfall in order not to be stopped for smuggling. His crops are certainly mediocre, but he feels more free.