tretching out behind this tropical forest village is one of the many state farm collectives that were slated to bring the bountiful benefits of Guinea's 25-year-old socialist revolution to the ever more cynical peasantry in the under-tilled countryside.
Millions of dollars have been spent on mechanized communal farms run by elite, but poorly trained, agricultural school graduates. But the collectives, like the similar failed schemes of the past, are rapidly headed for weedy ruin in a country that before independence in 1958 was able to feed itself.
The peasants, always touted as the group that ultimately will gain from these experiments and just as consistently kept out of them, have been left with a still deeper layer of distrust toward a government from which they already hide any surplus food. The prices that the government monopoly purchasing board offers for the produce are below the peasants' costs.
Guinea's socialist experiments hold important lessons for the efforts throughout the continent to increase Africa's 1 percent average in yearly food production growth to a level at least equalling its 2.7 percent annual population spurt. The growing population severely threatens Africa's future ability to feed itself and is eating up the small gains of overall economic development.
Guinea has been forced to use a third of its meager $220 million in annual bauxite export earnings to import food, thus diverting money that is vitally needed in such grossly neglected areas as medical services, education or even road building. Already unable to feed itself, Guinea's population of 6 million is growing at a rate slightly above that of Africa's--2.9 percent a year.
Collective farm schemes that do not work are not unique to Guinea. Resource-poor Tanzania's failing communes are better known. But while Guinea has a rare abundance of rich agricultural land, seemingly a natural edge to become an African paragon of food production, only one-seventh of its farmland is cultivated because of peasant resistance to low government prices.
Two countries with substantially less arable land than Guinea, the Ivory Coast and Kenya, have done remarkably well in food production by giving farmers cash incentives and assistance through rural extension services. The 80 percent peasant population in Guinea, on the other hand, has been more harassed by the government than helped and more neglected than included in production schemes, which invariably ignore the customary labor-intensive methods of farming here. Yet these peasants grow enough to smuggle into neighboring countries or to Guinea's ubiquitous "black marketeers," according to agricultural experts here.
Under Guinean President Ahmed Sekou Toure's "revolutionary socialism," monetary incentives are considered morally corrupting to man's dignity.
In an interview, in which Toure delivered an hour-long monologue in response to the one question he allowed to be asked, Toure indicated that the country's poor overall economic and agricultural performance since independence in 1958 was acceptable to him as long as history shows he has been successful in creating a "new Guinean man" of high intellect, cultural achievement and moral character.
"Our strategy of development outlined since our independence has been rigorously the same because we are convinced that history is a long-distance race without end," said Toure. "Socialism is based on human value, not on money."
Aside from Toure's verbal flourishes, however, street riots in August 1977 in Conakry by angry market women protesting his economic policies so deeply shook the autocrat that he has begun slowly to dismantle the most unproductive sectors of Guinea's state-dominated society.
The traders had poured out of Conakry's large Madina market on the eastern edge of the capital in pursuit of Toure's "economic police," a force the Guinean president created after decreeing the end of all private retail trade in 1975. During raids on the market, the policemen would confiscate the market women's smuggled wares until the women finally protested.
Hounded and beaten on the run by the women, the "economic police" shed their uniforms, went into hiding and have not been on the streets since.
Afterward, Toure rescinded the retail trade ban and began to relax his other economic edicts. With an estimated $1.5 billion debt that is growing, Toure has been pressured for more reforms. In 1979, he relaxed the inefficient state monopoly on import-export and wholesale commerce. Two years later, the government began to liquidate the most economically draining and unprofitable of 108 state enterprises.
In December, Toure announced that 210 of the 360 farming collectives established since 1979 will become autonomous and cut off from further government subsidies--as previously planned--in May. All of them eventually will have to become self-sustaining or fold, he indicated.
A highly circulated World Bank study of the collectives estimates that only 10 of the 360 could conceivably function as independent farming enterprises without heavy government subsidies. A day-long visit to the collective here at Fandje, 50 miles southeast of Conakry, illustrated a few of the reasons why.
Mamadou Mouctar Drame, 31, has been the assistant director of the 520-acre Fandje collective, one of the best in Guinea, since it was organized four years ago. Forty-eight agricultural school graduates, an elite cadre in a country with 90 percent illiteracy, run the collective. They live in the villages and hamlets that surround the farm.
During a walk around the farm, Drame said they grow a wide range of cereal, vegetable and fruit crops during the six-month rainy season that begins in May. He was vague, however, about whether future crop sales would sustain the 48 graduates, their families and the eight peasant laborers after the government subsidy ends in May.
The farm's French-made harvesting machine has not worked in a year "because no one knows how to repair it, and we don't have the part," said Drame. One of the farm's three East European tractors lies completely dismantled and abandoned behind Drame's house while the other two are up on cinder blocks out of commission in his yard. An East German grain grinder collects cobwebs in a warehouse because "the part ordered from a state agency two months ago has not arrived."
A food development expert, who is particularly sympathetic to Guinea's efforts to raise agricultural production levels back to pre-independence self-sufficiency, said the scene at Fandje is repeated at the collectives throughout Guinea.
"The farms are overmechanized with expensive, imported machinery they can't afford to maintain if they had the skills and most of the machines have broken down," said the international expert who has had two decades of experience in Africa. Almost all of the 10,000 agricultural school graduates who run the collectives "are poorly trained, their relations with the local peasants, whom they are suppose to be teaching, are very poor, and they are not planning for the future" because they know the collectives will not survive on their own, he said.
"The government recognizes their formula is not flawless, and they are willing to change it," he added.
Two Western analysts agreed, but they added that the Guineans were still wedded to the concept of elite-run collectives that bypass the country's peasants. The government has recently made overtures to American agribusiness firms whose operations, if some come here, also will exclude the peasants.
"The World Bank study shows that the peasants who live in Guinea's border areas are high producers of food crops," because they are able to get good prices by smuggling their produce into neighboring countries, one of the western experts said. "If this government would give the peasant a break, they could stop spending money on imported machinery, feed the country and have enough left over to earn foreign exchange from food exports," he concluded.