Re: Ten issues plan for agricultural transformation Urgent issues for consideration (Part 1)
Friday, February 29, 2008
The "Ten Issues Plan for Agricultural Transformation," Daily Observer, January 8, 2008 is a gold mine that lays the groundwork for considering interactions between economic policy and agricultural and non-agricultural growth. I find myself in agreement with some of the issues raised (although the wheel has already been invented) and hope to see an automatic development of a number of the issues raised when certain growth determining pre-conditions are met.
It is difficult to comment on a document with which one is fundamentally in sympathy. In part this is because, professional development practitioners serving in the capacity of a commentator cum contributor cannot reiterate those ideas with which they agree.
However, the comments below are predicated on the fact that so much has been left out that deserves attention and could stimulate further thought.
Generally, sub-Saharan Africa economies, especially those in the West African Semi-Arid Tropics (WASAT), within which we are, are faced with inadequate knowledge of policy and ineffective administration of development.
Any agenda for transformation, especially one in the agricultural sector, must recognise the difference between the two and address them in different ways. The impossibility - indeed the danger - of attempting to address an issue as complex as national agricultural transformation in one full swoop, with inadequate support administration, must be recognised.
One of the major reasons why developed countries and, Asian and Latin American, became self-sufficient in food and are able to provide relief to developing countries is that their agriculture is based on modern science and technology; hence productivity is high. There have generally been profound social and economic transformations, especially in institutional support in these countries. These are the achievements that made Malthus irrelevant and put him to eternal rest.
I belief that any proposed 'issues plan' for agricultural transformation should be made to hinge upon and revolve around the resource-poor small holder farmer and, should (1) take cognizance of the farmers' current practices and identify successes and shortcomings;
(2) determine and understand in as much detail as possible all relevant aspects of soils, vegetation, climate, fauna, pests, diseases, and so forth; (3) devise sound agricultural practices and technologies that are in harmony with the extent and nature of the country's natural resources and ecological base;
(4) insure that available agricultural practices and technologies enable farmers to increase production and productivity while conserving natural resources. To achieve these objectives, production practitioners and farmers must relate very closely. Farm systems advisory service should be used as an invaluable tool in coordinating the production practitioner and farmer consultations - and thus in the development of packages and/or plans for accelerating agricultural growth.
The average Gambia farmer is operating below subsistence level, hence the level of food and income poverty in the rural areas. The farmer is the person who must improve productivity and therefore should be party to the formulation of technologies aimed at improving his or her lot.
To be able to do this, constraints that prevent him from yield increases, yield stabilization and self-reliant production "take-off" should be identified. Only when these constraints are removed can farmers be outward looking - and produce surplus for the growing mass of urban dwellers as well as for export promotion and import substitution. Furthermore, everyone living in the rural area is not a farmer.
Development programmes and projects should create other forms of agricultural support services employment for the non-farmer - agriculture could be purposively used as a development tool in generating industry and commerce. Farmers must be provided with initial, time bound, adequately supervised institutional supporting services essential for growth of production and should be able to see tangible benefits of their efforts.
The Need for a Methodological Approach
To inform ourselves more fully on the items outlined in the ten issues plan, and to make an in depth contribution to the debate for a wider understanding of the agricultural transformation process, we need to be informed that the wheel has long been invented. What is required now is to come up with the necessary modifications on the wheel, that hinges upon and revolves around a methodological framework starting with select critical "issues for consideration" linked to a consolidation phase.
ISSUES FOR CONSIDERATION
Modern agricultural transformation a la Green Revolution is characterized by technological innovations based on scientific discovery (which has put the Malthusian Theory to rest).
This was inaugurated in Asia and Latin America and developed gradually, accompanied by economic and socio-cultural changes that frequently were mutually supportive. If we must emphasize sustained and stabilized surplus food and cash crop production during the short-term, as a pre-condition for a successful agricultural transformation, understanding and implementing the following must be our new frontiers:
What is transformation?
Transformation carries an implicit connotation of trying to improve on an existing system that has been acceptable and/or fashionable at a certain time. On the other hand, transformation refers to a process.
One possible definition of agricultural transformation could be that it is a process through which an agrarian society, design strategies to achieve increased control over its agricultural production environment, increased control over its own production destiny that enables its component participants/partners to gain increased control over themselves through sustained and stabilized surplus production, for own consumption as well as export promotion and import substitution.
In the light of the above definition, a subsistence society and/or community that has been cultivating, for example, 5 hectares of assorted crops (per household) for its subsistence needs, but now has a more realistic explanation (through on-farm advisory service and use of improved technologies) of the production process and is consequently producing a marketable surplus from 2 hectares of the same assorted crops (per household) - this agrarian society is transforming very fast and its transformation can be measured by an index of sustainability and stability.
The first ingredient of the transformation process is molded by existence of diverse values in the society which clash, conflict, and evolve into something new but do not suppress other value systems.
The second ingredient of this process is innovation rather than limitation. The transforming society learns from experience of others, assimilates innovations that it considers useful through a process of conscious selection geared to stabilizing increased production and productivity gains.
The third ingredient of this process, which has been the missing link in our agricultural and rural development transformation systems, is our inability to institutionalize the targets-based production system: to produce and stabilize surplus production on a sustainable basis through soil fertility, fertilizer use-rate and use-efficiency management trilogy.
Stabilized technical change leading to productivity "take-off" is an inevitable pre-condition for a successful transformation process. The trilogy is about putting agricultural science and technology to work to fill bellies, diminish poverty, create employment and, provide support for export promotion and import substitution.
Generating these conditions requires enabling the production environment initially, through supervised subsidies, preferably on a declining scale over a very short time frame.
As development practitioners, our mandate is to provide the necessary preconditions so that the resource-poor small holder farmer can ultimately take care of himself. On the understanding that, he has been made to realize that nobody can help him but himself. The transformation philosophy, therefore, is better illustrated by the so-called chicken-egg theory:
"Transformation practitioners are like the chicken hatching its eggs. The chicken cannot and should not force the chicks to hatch, because the chicks might not be ready yet to come out. So, the chicken just provides the heat so that the chick will grow and become strong to break its shell at the right time and place according to its ability."
Like the chicken, the proponents of agricultural transformation should, through the guidance of professional and experienced transformation practitioners, provide the "heat" so that the "chick" or the resource-poor small farmer will be in a better position to break his shell and eventually emerge as a free man that he aspires to be.
Implicit in the attainment of freedom is the need for a transformation system that initially supports, guide and condition farmers to generate and stabilise surplus production, which is the aspiration of every subsistence farmer.
To be free in farming implies self-reliance. Self-reliance for a farmer implies the ability to produce surplus. In any transformation process, guided by rigid administrative principles, it is necessary to insist on value for time and money, through targets-based agreement.
When this is done, sealed and stabilised, everything else follows automatically. The creation and stabilisation of surplus production will enable private sector investment to start replacing public sector expenditure in agriculture and rural development.
The enabling entry point for private sector participation would have been created through the stabilisation of a viable entry point: surplus production. This is the development magic formula that the farm advisory service/extension service and the development support administration has to create to justify their existence.
Targeting the small farmer
The fact that small holder farmers dominate our agriculture is well known. Agriculture is the main source of employment for the majority of our small holder rural population and the bulk of our food as well as cash crops are produced by this sub-sector.
Rather than target other investors who usually come self-contained and, would invest in anything except domestic food production, the target should be on small farmers who need to be groomed to become our future strategic investors in the agricultural sector.
Otherwise, we risk colonising the "poverty" of the resource-poor small farmers. Farmers are the biggest private sector in any agrarian society. They need to be helped, supervised and guided to actualise the role of future strategic investors. Any policy and/or development strategy that affects the productivity of small holder farmers is likely to have an impact on the welfare of both the urban and rural poor.
Small holder agriculture is of major importance in any balanced agricultural transformation strategy because it represents a source of labour and of nutritional safety for the great majority of the rural poor.
Any policy and/or development strategy that causes a detrimental change in the income structure of small holders leads to a destabilisation of society, and endangers the nutritional status of a large proportion of the population thus increasing rural exodus and the cost of urbanisation. The only way to arrest the current rural-urban exodus is to make agriculture a reliable greener pasture, to adequately attract the youth especially. These are some of the known lessons for a balanced transformation strategy.
In transformation programmes in agriculture and rural development, it is vitally important that an adequate targets-based production system exists or can be established to ensure the acquisition of available technology and the implementation of agreed development measures. Farmers have not been able to adopt research results simply because they have not been producing surplus. The farmers' currency is his yield per hectare.
It is the surplus yields that he must sell to earn money to enable him adopt cash as well as non-cash input technologies. Stabilised surplus production is the only known strategy to transform agriculture and to sustainably move the resource-poor small farmer out of poverty into the national economic stream.
The much-quoted negative results, which followed the introduction of agricultural development programmes/projects (especially rice development) in small farm situations, were not the fault of the agricultural scientists.
They were usually the result of lending institution and/or donor failure to appreciate that their misguided economic, monetary, and other policy decisions effectively excluded the small farmers from the production system that prevailed.
Until this situation is corrected and special measures taken to provide services and assistance tailored to the needs of the small farmers (farm advisory service, credit to purchase inputs, especially fertilizer, soil fertility management, attention to questions of production budgets/targets, irrigation development and management, etc.), they stand to benefit little, if at all, from these development programmes/projects.
Author: Suruwa B. Wawa Jaiteh