Monday, May 27

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

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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

Institutionalisation of the

rice development process

Efforts to institutionalise rice development activities need to be expanded and intensified. A central and continuing rice development unit is essential for serving all segments of the rural population and for providing direction, oversight, and coordination of scattered rice development activities. Successful coordination will serve to minimise proliferation of rice development projects and the associated possibility of conflicting and inappropriate advice to producers and the inefficient use of resources. As a contribution to institutionalisation, all donor and lending institution funded programmes should be designed with these considerations: sustainability and replicability in mind. Any central rice development unit, programme, and staff would require periodic evaluation and adjustment to the changing needs of the clientele as performance progresses.

Programme planning

A mechanism is required at the national level and within each production system for planning programmes (essentially targets-based with emphasis on religiously adhering to research recommended input use and on-farm operational timelines) that can help achieve national policy goals – for example, with respect to assured national rice supply, population considerations, environment, and conservation. At the same time, the outlined plan should address locally identified problems to achieve locally important goals within the capacity of the local people and the available natural and financial resources. Further, the programmes should incorporate objectives and criteria for measurement of progress toward their achievement. Built-in measures for independent evaluation, or at least for generating the information for external evaluation, are essential to provide the basis for improved performance and to justify the allocation of scarce financial resources. Any programme meeting these requirements will provide the motivation and possibility for local implementation while satisfying national demands for accountability and contribution to the achievement of national goals. These are extremely important safeguards against the pronouncement of imaginary achievements. You may recall Kagonge (former UNDP resident representative) and his imaginary achievements scored by the National Youth Environment Corp. (NYEC). Surprisingly, he was supported by a Dr Katim Touray who wrote a confused rejoinder, to my professionally backed objective criticism and condemnation, in support of Kagonge by asking that I apologise for being professional, truthful and nationalistic. Paradoxically, Kagone has left Dr Katim Touray in the lurch. Ten years along the line, it is clear to all that Kagonge has not only played on our national sensibilities but has lied to this nation as well. For this unpardonable professional misconduct, I refer Dr Katim Touray to read Jose Rizal’s “El Filibusterimo” and “Noli Me Tengere”.

Staff stability: The need for

commitment and continuity

The annual loss of personnel is an ongoing process of renewal within any system. However, it is also critical to have sufficient staff stability to maintain programme continuity. The loss of experienced personnel due to termination and dismissals is termed “wastage” because these individuals frequently embody considerable expertise and institutional memory. In a stable, functioning institution, the typical level of wastage should be minimal.

Rice productivity growth through planned and programmed action plans

In a manner of speaking, there are few, if any, problems of rice production which can be regarded as new. The components of the problems are much the same as they were earlier. These problems, however, have drastically changed in three dimensions: size, urgency, and complexity. The government should design some meaningful role in resolving these problems and/or intensify whatever “good efforts” could be exerted towards this end.

Examples of areas in which government can take leadership are not hard to find. For instance, there is a key technical problem, the agro-eco-physiological aspect of production that calls for national cooperation as outlined in the repealed National Agricultural Development Agency’s (NADA) proposed operational outline.

The fact that the total rice production per head is stagnant and/or declining in spite of the encouraging progress in cereal output in Asia and Latin America is an indication of the magnitude of efforts that have to be made if consumption levels have to be maintained without recourse to importation. Efforts I am sure, will have to be designed to spread the techniques related to ‘yield revolution’ of rice to the production of other food stuffs like beans, vegetables, root crops, eggs, milk, and meat demands for which will increase as income rises and as population expands. The precariousness of our investments in agriculture and in the rice subsector in particular is manifested by the failure to create any meaningful impact.

The growth in size, urgency and the complexity of the production problems of rice must be matched by corresponding changes in institutional policies, organisation, management, and the on-farm programme of work. As a country fighting poverty, we must recognise that any proposed rice development programme and the second-generation problems to which the new technologies will give birth to should not be treated in isolation from the problems of unemployment, social injustice, malnutrition, population growth, and pollution of the environment. Above all, we must take note that the purpose of the “import ban” is not merely to ban rice imports. Its real purpose is to promote development in terms of producing quality food/rice at lower prices and raising the incomes of the rural dwellers. This aim implies that the development of the rice industry should not be merely a matter of improving technology or increasing yield per hectare or improving handling, processing, marketing and trade (the value chain); other objectives affecting the farmer must be observed in the wider context of the well-being of the rural communities.

I submit that the government mobilises local capacities in the formulation and testing of a planned rice development strategy for stabilised and sustained production. This could be done from now to the year 2016, in place of the import ban. I envision an important function for indigenous service providers to government, whose role must be that of an impartial analyst, identifying alternative policy actions of rice production in the given situation and analyse the consequences in relation to national development objectives.

Future priorities

The most basic aspects of the medium to long-term strategy for rice development must be increase in rice production to keep pace as far as possible with the rapidly rising demand, for most of the production increases to come from higher yields, for the use of fertiliser and other purchased inputs, and for heavy reliance on irrigated perimeters for double/triple cropping (including the rehabilitation and improvement of existing irrigation works) while at the same time giving much more emphasis than in the past to raising yields under the various rain-fed production systems.

At this point we must be reminded that the progress and ultimate contribution of the methodology and development strategy benefits will be determined by how its benefits are shared. The full impact of the outlined methodology and development strategy will be felt in the next decade when the sharing of the technologies in rice production will be institutionalised among the rice producing regions. The need for new technology is nearly national, not limited to any region or group of regions. In organising and institutionalising the sharing of technology in rice production, the role of the government should not be limited to the assembly and dissemination of knowledge but must include the adaptation of a given technology to all the production systems in the country, for, after all, agricultural technology in general is location specific. The proposed import ban by 2016 has necessarily missed the essential ingredients for making it possible.

In our search for causes of economic growth in the rice industry, it is not really the rate of investment that is important so much as the productivity of whatever investment an economic system undertakes. With the ample technology now available to increase food production, the problem of the rice industry in the country has grown much more political and less technological

Spurred by widespread dissatisfaction with the overall performance of the agriculture sector and the perennial drain on the national economy arising from very low operating efficiency, the cabinet directed the institutional restructuring of the Department of State for Agriculture (DoSA) in 2004. This was necessary, since agriculture as a development generator and carrier has seemingly parted ways with its national mandate.

Against this background, the principal objective of the institutional restructuring of DoSA was to effect efficiency gains, by cutting costs, raising revenue and enhancing productivity. Three broad categories designed to restructure DoSA were: i) the improvement of planning, programming and production-related environment; ii) streamlining the relationship between the producers and government through a targets-based production system guided by a memorandum of understanding (MOU); (iii) reduction of staff; this was necessitated by the fact that 70% of DoSA’s budget was spent on emoluments; and (iv) the creation of an agricultural development fund (ADF); specifically for the retrenched staff to make use of and establish agricultural enterprises within mixed farming centre (MFC) areas. Measures to improve the production-market environment, promote competition, increase work ethic and financial discipline were outlined in the various terms of reference (TOR) for every employee.

Further measures to rehabilitate and/or restructure intervention performance were aimed at improving the technical competence of management, strengthening internal procedures, reinforcing on-farm activities on a targets-based approach, and providing management with sufficient autonomy to achieve programme objectives so that they can be held accountable for results.

In fact the sense of hopelessness in face of so many possibilities of mischance or mistake are due to our failure to consult, plan and programme issues as they are and the final situation as it could be, omitting the steps in between. It is the central argument of this write-up that attempts to make this jump by radical innovation are bound to meet with disappointments. Operation Feed Yourself supported by so many tractors was a multi-million dalasi failure because it was neither planned nor programmed.

Although human muscle on a sun-baked clay or half-water-logged land will never create a high standard of living, nonetheless the economic conditions, the conditions of tenure, the nature of soils, the design of the equipment, will all need careful planning before giving them tractors. When we look closely at the nature of the resource poor rural farmers farm, its cultivation and its markets, and put the pieces together in a feasibility study, we find that there is no possible way that their revenue could maintain a tractor.