Agriculture Business Development

Avenues for energizing commitment in African agricultural transformation

Agricultural products

By Charles Dhewa

Failure to implement agricultural policies by many African countries stems from processes through which such policies are developed. When different stakeholders do not adequately participate in the process of developing a national agricultural policy, their commitment in terms of technical and financial support is often very weak.

Those leading processes of developing an agricultural policy are often not alert to different cultures and methods through different stakeholders measure performance. Efforts to bring academics, government people, development agencies, and the private sector into a single agricultural policy-making process should be awake to how these actors use totally different instruments to measure performance.

Reconciling competing notions of agriculture development
With smart facilitation, avenues for harnessing and reconciling perspectives from different agricultural stakeholders can focus on persuading stakeholder groups to draft separate agricultural transformation strategies based on their worldviews.

  • The private sector group can be requested to put together its own agriculture transformation document from a profit-motive angle. How does agriculture transformation look like when driven by profit? When they are on their own, private players will not shy away from projecting their interest in profitable value chains only. They will not express this view strongly in a workshop comprising government and development agencies.
  • In its part, the government can be asked to prepare an agriculture transformation strategy from an enabling environment perspective. How will an agricultural policy transformation look like from the perspective of creating an enabling environment for the agriculture sector to thrive?
  • Development agencies can also be kindly requested to craft an agricultural transformation strategy from a beneficiary and livelihoods building perspective. How will an agricultural transformation look like if it focused mainly on improving the livelihoods of the vulnerable communities and households?
  • Academics can also be asked to craft an agricultural transformation from a theory-heavy and scientific perspective. How can agricultural transformation be achieved from an academic and scientific perspective?

Articulating commitment
Besides generating a rich mix of different views to agricultural transformation, asking every group of actors to bring their own perspectives will also translate to commitments in either cash or kind in the form of technical skills. This will also address the common scenario where in almost all agricultural policies in Africa, the private sector perspective is silent in terms of what exactly it is expected to contribute. The contribution of the development sector or NGO world is also not always apparent. Names of particular development agencies are often dropped in particular pillars of the agricultural policy but there is no clear articulation of their contributions and roles. 

When roles and responsibilities are not clear, there is no sense of commitment because roles should be tied to responsibilities. Development agencies cannot just be expected to shell out money for implementing a national agricultural policy when it is not clear who is doing what and what is coming from where?  Brilliant policies with no commitment are a waste of time and just another document on the shelf.

The power of clarity on sources of resources
Implementation can only happen if there are commitments in terms of funds and technical support. Where a budget line is indicated in the policy document, the source of that budget line must be clarified. That will, for instance, make it possible for the private sector to say it will contribute resources in the form of technical expertise or real money – in kind or monetary terms. Government can also mention infrastructure as its main contribution while development agencies can indicate their harmonized contribution. The government may request development agencies to commit their contribution in supporting the government toward building agricultural markets. 

Depending on how the policy is presented and marketed among stakeholders, some development agencies or programs may volunteer to finance baseline studies and gap analyses for particular value chains or pillars. Some can come in to finance infrastructure at local level. A key advantage is that many development organizations may already be doing something that can easily be re-aligned with the agricultural policy. For instance, some may already be supporting revamping of irrigation infrastructure.

Riding on on-going transformative experiments
Rapid assessments can be conducted as part of identifying actors who can contribute in cash or kind.  A fluid report or inventory can be produced covering the status quo in terms of which development actors are already supporting particular interventions. That will avoid duplication and waste of resources. Obviously the implementation of agricultural policies does not start from Zero because farmers, traders, markets and other actors are already doing something on the ground, which should be reflected in the national agricultural policy.

More importantly, identifying transformative experiments already underway is critical in recognizing areas where some relevant foundations have already been laid and only require filling some gaps. In addition to requesting different sectors to come up with their own sectoral strategy on transforming agriculture, a value chain approach to agricultural policy development and transformation can be a good complement. In as much as African governments may be fond of capturing progress, they need to balance private interests with government approaches and strategies being promoted by the development sector.

Transformation is driven by actors and processes
The users of monitoring and evaluation information should also be clearly identified. This will support the creation of networks and synergies though which knowledge and information move in ways that avoid information overload. Also critical is tracking progress in resource allocation in relation to achievement of associated outcomes. Most budget allocations by government are just figures with no results in relation to resources allocated.  Accountability systems and institution building can close some of these vacuums. Each actor should be interested in how relevant, effective, efficient and sustainable its outcomes and resource utilization practices are.

A sustainable agricultural transformation policy should not put everything in the hands of government.  There should be space for the private sector, Community-Based Organizations (CBOs), NGOs and others.  It may be counter-productive to overload the ministry of agriculture with implementation when its role is more regulatory and creating an enabling environment. Broadly, implementation must be guided by enabling environment, implementation process (where do we start?), potential investment or investors, agricultural growth performance (production and productivity) and agricultural trade performance (markets). All these should address food and nutrition security in a transformative way.

Monitoring and evaluating an agricultural transformation
A proper monitoring and evaluation system for the agriculture sector should be able to track commodities from production all the way to the market including exports. As fruits move from Chimanimani to Harare or from Taveta to Nairobi, where else do some of the quantities go and how are they used?  While knowledge brokers like eMKambo can collect information on what finally gets to the market, information close to production level in terms of what is consumed locally and what gets to local markets is often missing. This can be addressed by aligning the monitoring and evaluation system along value chains.

The role of intermediaries should also be recognized and incentivized.  Most agricultural interventions focus on farmers and the ministry of agriculture, forgetting several intermediaries who are key sources and users of information and commodities. It is important to know many intermediaries whose role influences profits from value chains as well as profit sharing between value chain actors and farmers.

About the author

Byron Adonis Mutingwende