Opinion

The World Bank Report:- “Agriculture for Development”

6 November 2007 at 01:01 | 600 views

(An Alternative Point of View)

By Mohamed Boye Jallo Jamboria.

“While agriculture in Africa holds promise, the report says current challenges are daunting and require new roles for the state, the private sector, and civil society; a new mix of centralized and decentralized services to serve rural people; and improved coordination among such entities as the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CIGAR), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Bank, a wide range of development partners and non-governmental organizations, regional organizations and national governments.”

For all intents and purposes, the recent World Bank report that recommends a shift to and an emphasis on the agricultural sector is very much in place. A careful examination of the logical context of the quoted statement from the document, above, clearly spells out not only a hypothetical statement but one that can from many perspectives can be accepted as an outline of one of the realities that Africa, especially sub-Saharan Africa must face if future food insecurities are to be avoided.

If one goes back a bit in time ,history ,doctored or otherwise, outlines three stages in the development of the “first world “ nations. First was the stone age followed by the agrarian development and food abundance and finally the industrial stage that saw a rapid growth and development after food self sufficiency has been achieved.

Africa and especially so sub-Saharan Africa would have reached that stage long ago had it not been for the relative nonchalance to the agricultural sector, poor planning and the general poor political start after independence.

Sierra Leone as a case in point was a country that should have achieved food self sufficiency given all the research stations at Masankay, Njala, Toma bum and Rokupr-Kobia ,but for the general social degradation of the agricultural sector. In the 60s and 70s children from framing homes were looked low upon and those whose parents were in the white collar jobs had all the reverence. This of course is a mental misconception that has been translated today into the quest for a PHD by all and sundry. Everyone wants to be looked at as one of academic stamina and excellence with little or no concern for the practical aspects of development which is the blue collar sector where agriculture belongs.

Like Alan de Janvry Co-Team leader of the report said; “Africa’s own agricultural revolution must cater to very diverse rain fed farming systems and simultaneously improve technologies, institutions, and markets,” Africa has the climatic and in most cases vegetation potential to reach food self-sufficiency if and only if steps are taken in the following direction:

(a)A well mapped agronomical survey that delimits areas of highest productivity. This is necessary because there are areas different areas have different productivity potentials .For example, rice production can be limited to the coastal and inland swamps that have the ability to replenish if the ecosystem is not adversely tampered with whilst cash crops crops continue to be planted in the hinterlands.

(b)A legal framework that, can allow for large scale production instead of the continued misuse of arable land by shifting cultivation. As a matter of urgency government must expedite the convening of a national consultative conference or workshops on the issue of the land tenure system and in consultation with the chiefs some legal adjustment to the existing laws must be made if any serious agriculture is to be undertaken in Sierra Leone.
This of course is a very thorny issue that needs an open participation of all stakeholders in the development process in Sierra Leone. Also it must be done with a view of leasehold tenure that is negotiable rather than freehold tenure because if the freehold approach is taken Sierra Leone WILL EVENTUALLY HAVE TO GO THROUGH THE EXPERIENCES OF Zimbabwe.

(c)Institutional capacitating that will enable farmers to be able to engage in sustainable large -scale agriculture, with out being indebted to loan sharks. This is where the lesson of Mohamed Yunus, noble laureate, founder and managing Director of the Garmin Bank can come in vis--vis the resuscitation of the Rural Banks, co-operative societies and the provision of fiscal and agronomical advisory services to the framers. One future assurance of this part of the project will be the fiscal empowerment of the farmers.

(e)With the present good will and readiness of the World Bank to fund such projects, Government must map out a definitive strategy that will include a Local management education and strategies phase. This element of the project is very important as lessons from the IDA Projects of the past indicate that the attitude with which loans have been given and received is a contributing factor to the present status quo.

(f)Media programs that will sensitise and educate the public on the benefits of developing the agricultural sector must be undertaken and sustained.

(g)Also government must as a matter of urgency undertake to provide the initial inputs and infrastructure such as well networked irrigation where needed, food for work for at least one planting season and other local needs that may be specific to the different areas.

Like Alan de Janvry said: “...irrigation in Nigeria (small scale) and Mali (large scale), multiple uses for cassava in West Africa, cotton in Zambia, and horticulture and dairy in Kenya as good examples of local successes which can be scaled up.”

Overall an integrated program project should be documented to include social services provision such as education, cheap solar powered rural communities’ telephone and communications that will include TV and radio networks as has already started in Sierra Leone. These are very important as they will provide the basis for swift sensitisation and education of the rural population. Also this facility will make for entertainment, a key factor attracting people from the rural to the urban sector.

.The above alone cannot bring about the desired effect and so the issues of electrification and the basic rural infrastructure and services must be a part of the medium or long term plan to instigate a shift from the urban to the rural.

Also it must be taken into cognisance that there are a lot of interrelated factors, social and technological that must be brought into perspective if the agricultural program is to take off and succeed.

Like Derek Byerlee, also Co-Team leader of the report said:” Today, environmentally friendly technologies like conservation tillage, integrated pest management, and new varieties such as ‘Nerica’ rice (known as New Rice for Africa) hold promise. Science and technology are a lynchpin to Africa’s future productivity growth”.
This statement has a more far reaching meaning than can be connotatively seen. Therefore the need for the setting up of new research institutes along side the existing ones like Rokupr should be part of the project.
With such arrangements in the next decade Sierra Leone will achieve food self-sufficiency along side export production.

Added to this food self-sufficiency means a healthier population and babies born with better developed brains as the necessary food for a proper development of the foetus and especially the brain will be affordable.

A very important point is that the success of so a program will depend to a very great extent on the social attitude and understanding of what is implied especially with regards that of loan repayment and capital growth and development from the proceeds of the project and sustainability of the project.

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