Livestock Systems / Pastoralism

Political patronage and peasant interests: The case of the livestock sector

A fascinating discussion by David Leonard and colleagues on patronage issues for the rural poor appears in the May 2010 issue of Development and Change.

The authors ask: Is political patronage still relevant to policymaking for the rural poor, and especially livestock producers, in today’s developing world?

‘In this article, we argue that the nature of patronage has undergone significant changes, but the form it takes is still highly relevant to the ways peasant interests are treated, and its absence is frequently not advantageous to them. The fashionable analytic concept “social capital” can obscure some of these continuities, so its advantages for other purposes should not displace an attention to patronage as well. . . .

‘The evidence on which we draw in advancing this thesis is found in seventeen web-published country case studies the authors have conducted. These studies, commissioned by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), analysed the current political and economic realities of each country in order to suggest feasible policy and institutional changes that would benefit its livestock-dependent poor. The situation of the livestock-dependent poor provides a particularly good context within which to probe shifts in the practice and analysis of patronage. Previously questions such as cattle-loans and access to water and pasture were often discussed in terms of patronage.’

One main conclusion of this study is that ‘the organization of peasant groups by external national and international NGOs can represent both a transition to associational politics and a type of patron–client relation.’

Another key point the authors make is that ‘many peasant communities (especially those engaged in livestock production) are not incorporated in national patron-client relationships, despite having rich associational social capital at the community level. Moreover, these patronage-lacking communities receive even less benefit from the state than do those that are controlled by political clientage.’

The following is the abstract of the paper.

‘Is the analysis of patron–client networks still important to the understanding of developing country politics or has it now been overtaken by a focus on “social capital”? Drawing on seventeen country studies of the political environment for livestock policy in poor countries, this article concludes that although the nature of patronage has changed significantly, it remains highly relevant to the ways peasant interests are treated. Peasant populations were found either to have no clear connection to their political leaders or to be controlled by political clientage. Furthermore, communities “free” of patron-client ties to the centre generally are not better represented by political associations but instead receive fewer benefits from the state. Nonetheless, patterns of clientage are different fromwhat theywere forty years ago. First, patronage chains today often have a global reach, through trade, bilateral donor governments and international NGOs. Second, the resources that fuel political clientage today are less monopolistic and less adequate to the task of purchasing peasant political loyalty. Thus the bonds of patronage are less tight than they were historically. Third, it follows from the preceding point and the greater diversity of patrons operating today that elite conflicts are much more likely to create spaces in which peasant interests can eventually be aggregated into autonomous associations with independent political significance in the national polity. NGOs are playing an important role in opening up this political space although at the moment, they most often act like a new type of patron.’

Read the whole article at Wiley Online Library (subscription required), Development and Change: Does patronage still drive politics for the rural poor in the developing country world? A comparative perspective from the livestock sector, May 2010. This science journal is produced at the International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University Rotterdam (ISS), The Hague.

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