Local organizations as terrains of struggle: Dysfunction as resistance in the cooperatives of the Republic of Niger
Despite the recent renewal of interest and new scholarship on the role of local organizations in the development process, long-standing "dysfunctional" local organizations are still poorly understood. Functionalist organization theory which dominates the literature does not adequately explain cases such as the agricultural cooperatives of Niger, a state-run network of local organizations which have repeatedly failed to meet rural development objectives set by the government. The premise of this study is that some local organization dysfunction, such as that in the Niger case, are not products of poor planning or training but a manifestation of the conflict between the state and rural producers. Peasant behavior is interpreted as resistance to state initiatives. In Niger, the long-term deterioration of farming conditions and the ill-conceived "Green Revolution" development strategy have compelled rural producers to reject official state initiatives. The cooperatives, channels through which agricultural credit, farm inputs and equipment are made available to members have become arenas of struggle between rural producers and the state. The widespread knowledge of alternative use of cooperative resources and cooperation among diverse social groups, it is argued here, is evidence that dysfunction in the cooperatives is not anti-social or criminal behavior but resistance. Members obtain program benefits through the cooperatives and often use them not to improve farm productivity but to construct an alternative development strategy--the development of the petty commodity sector, commerce and services sector. These hypotheses were tested by (a) a review of historical data on peasant-state relations, (b) a review of the data on contemporary farming conditions, and (c) an analysis of household survey data collected in Niger by the Ohio State University Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology Rural Finance Program in 1986. The conclusions reached were, first, that farming conditions have deteriorated and farmers foresee a general decline of the agricultural sector for the future. Second, contemporary cooperatives were developed on the foundation of a network of local organizations created during the colonial era. The extreme unpopularity of those antecedents and the long-standing alienation between rural producers and the state undermined the legitimacy of both the cooperatives and their programs in the eyes of the peasants. Third, evidence of collaboration between diverse social groups--landless peasants, religious figures, local chiefs, better-off farmers--indicated that the misuse of cooperative resources was carried out with a degree of community consensus and therefore could be interpreted as resistance to the state. Fourth, the data showed that the cooperative program benefits were not being used primarily for raising farm productivity but to supplement off-farm occupations or were sold to generate cash income.