Friday, March 24

The Rice Story: The need for a planned and programmed production approach part 4

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This will provide the basis for the design of production policies cum strategies as well as the design of actionable agro-eco-physiological plans for the regions and their production ecologies for a systematic and cost effective rice development.

SB Wawa Jaiteh

Food Policy Workshop, 1982

Rethinking possible

Many initiatives have been launched, promoted and/or pronounced to promote increased rice production in the country, but relatively little progress has been made toward developing the type of enabling environment that is needed for a smooth and rapid transition from a subsistence level to commercial level. So what can be done? One important lesson that emerged from past efforts to promote increased rice production in the country is that there is a need for much clearer “rethinking” about how increased rice production policy fits into the country’s overall development strategy and goals. In recent years expectations have increased regarding the role that increased rice production can play in the economic development process. Currently rice is seen by many development practitioners as a commodity that can be used to achieve a range of broad development goals, including stimulating rapid economic growth, alleviating poverty, and erecting safety nets to protect the rural poor in times of crisis. With a planned and programmed development approach, some of these expectations are within reach. Increased rice production can contribute to a range of objectives, including (in some cases) welfare objectives, but the size and sustainability of the contribution will be limited as long as underlying structural problems in the economy remain unaddressed.

This country will not be able to sustain a ban on rice imports and satisfy our domestic rice requirements, come 2016, merely by launching more rice developing schemes modeled on those that have been launched so many times in the past, particularly those that involve pump irrigation and/or unreliable rainfed production systems that demand improved seed and increased fertilizer use. This does not mean that rice development schemes cannot play a useful role, however, provided they are used as part of a comprehensive and multifaceted approach that seeks to tackle the underlying root causes of high production cost and low yields.

The need for a production methodology

The indispensable starting point for an effective and efficient rice development programme is to formulate a national development policy and to incorporate it in legislation. Such a policy will specify objectives, clientele, funding arrangements, functions, and the place of the rice development organisations within the government structure and its relations with other governmental and non-governmental institutions involved in rice production and rural development. The policy will need to be conceived within the framework of macro-economic, social, and agricultural policy, government structure, and the total availability and pattern of allocation of national financial resources. In the absence of a realistic national rice development policy, increased and sustained rice production and productivity growth cannot make its essential contribution to agricultural and national development, nor can external assistance be effectively used.

“Operation Feed Yourself” backed by so many tractors and “back-to-the-land call” were worthy measures that could have quietly transformed the country’s agriculture if only they were adequately planned and programmed. Failure to plan adequately has not only caused dismal failures but has also resulted to the waste of millions of hard-earned taxpayers’ money and time. We have to learn to do things right.

Institutionalisation of rice development

Efforts to institutionalise rice production in the country requires adequate planning, programming within the context of an expanded intensification setting. A central and continuing government outlined rice development programme is essential for covering all the production ecologies involving the most vulnerable segments of the rural population as well as providing direction, oversight and coordination of scattered rice development activities. Successful coordination will serve to minimise proliferation of rice development organisations and the associated possibility for conflicting and inappropriate advice to producers and inefficient use of resources. As a contribution to institutionalisation, technical and financial assistance projects could be designed with these considerations, sustainability and replicability, in mind. Any central rice production organisation, programme, and staff would require periodic independent evaluation to the changing needs of the clientele as agriculture and rural development progresses.

Programme planning

A mechanism is required within the expanded rice production intensification programme for systematic planning that can help achieve national policy goals – for example, with respect to assured national food supply, population consideration, environment and conservation. At the same time, it should address locally identified problems to achieve locally important goals within the capacity of local people and their available natural and financial resources. Furthermore, the programme should incorporate objectives and criteria for measurement of progress toward their achievement. Built-in measures for evaluation are essential to provide the basis for improved performance and to justify the allocation of scarce financial resources. Any programme meeting these requirements should be able to provide the motivation and possibility for local implementation while satisfying national demands for accountability and contribution to the achievement of national goals.

Need for stability, continuity and commitment

In fact, our sense of hopelessness in the face of so many possibilities of mischance or mistake is due to the lack of stability, proper continuity and planning and programming of the situation as it now is and the final situation as it could be; omitting the steps between. It is the central argument of this Author that attempts to make this jump in any sector of crop production by radical innovations is bound to meet with serious disappointments. The more gradual sequence of mounting improvements as outlined in the (a) provision of agricultural support services at GMD51,000,000.00 and (b) agricultural improvement programme at GMD98,000,000.00, action plan components of the repealed National Agricultural Development Agency (NADA), are in fact extremely hopeful ones and have earned the support of Dr Jacques Diouf, FAO director general, at the time. It is the pressure of time which breeds impatience, waste of resources and consequent increase in poverty. Yet the step-by-step process outlined in the NADA operational guidelines are, by any wider standard, not in fact so slow. Nineteen years is not a long time if each year can be made to show some progress; and ten years has shown unbelievable progress in some places.

Elements of the rice crisis

The country’s rice problem represents a crisis of planning, programming and sustainability in two areas. Firstly, the present mode of development supported by donors and lending institutions is not sustainable; the country cannot continue with many of the current policies. Second, any package of proposed solutions must be sustainable over the medium term, given the very limited room for manoeuvre and the lack of national capacity for quick response. Solutions that place an over heavy burden on the limited financial, administrative or other resources will provide only temporary relief.

The rice crisis is so broad and complex that some form of classification is essential to understand it and although there is a seamless web of interrelated problems, any classification may be somewhat artificial. The proposed classification prior to intervention must identify the sub-crisis: population, natural resources, development strategies (in terms of actionable plans), independent technology learning capacity (ITLC) and independent technology creating capacity (ITCC) and, most importantly, linking the improvements with the microeconomic level of the household. Without these linking measures, which cover markets and infrastructure, the benefits, if any, of the pronounced Vision 2016 are unlikely to yield their full potential in production. Planning, programming and infrastructural inadequacies have been identified as being particularly important in restricting production response in the Gambia, especially in the rice sector. These inadequacies embrace economic infrastructure including agricultural support services and credit for example and social infrastructure such as water supply. These issues are particularly pertinent for any planned and programmed intervention because the nation’s considerable rice production potential is constrained by the failure to service the rural sector properly.

The categorisation would show that all the elements of the crisis are internal; some have their origin in physical constraints while others have been created or exacerbated by policy failures; some are purely agricultural while others reflect the overall development posture of government; and some will be seen to fall within the economic domain while others are the result of inadequacies in the governance setup. It should be borne in mind that the country has various rice production systems, all of which would need proper classification as a basis for intervention.