Chapter Seven
Food Policy Research in
a Global Context:

The West African Sahel Della McMillan and Thomas Reardon

Think of research as one of many inputs, including political and natural factors, that gives rise to decisions by policy makers, in a manner similar to a production function; these effects can be complex and take a long time; one may have an interesting research insight (such as ours on the effect of head taxes in rural Mali) that may not affect policy making until the time is right, until all factors come together to give weight to the insight. —Dione (1993)Food policy research takes place in a rapidly evolving political, economic, and physical context. This context determines both the type of research that is undertaken as well as the extent to which the results of research influence government policy. This chapter provides a brief overview of the complex interrelationship between research and the three major shifts in food policy that have occurred since World War II in the West African Sahel. This historical analysis describes the critical role of research in reevaluating many of the core assumptions that have undergirded these major policy shifts. The same analysis shows that the wider impact of research was seldom direct. Rather, it tended to redirect or strengthen trends that were already under way due to:
1. the long-term structural economic, social and political characteristics and problems of the region (highly seasonal and variable rainfall, trade deficits, poverty, expanding urban clients) acting in concert;

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