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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Food security and the motherland (Part 2)

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The reality 

Most of Africa’s food production depends on natural rainfall and moisture.  In much of sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), this rainfall is the product of a mono-modal or bi-modal rainfall pattern.  If these rains are on time and of the right amount, and if the periodic bouncing drought is not too severe or destructive, the crops are good, if not, yields are low and, therefore poor food security situation.  Much, if not most of the production increases that have been recorded in SSA in the past 6 years should be credited to favourable weather during the latter years of the period with 1 – 2% annual increase in land area.  The rest of the increase can be credited to high yielding varieties (HYVs); the additional value of fertilisers, pesticides, and other inputs used; the intensified on-farm extension programmes, and the development of improved irrigation systems to provide more stable water supplies in the wet season and, occasionally, a second crop in the dry season.    

To make sound decisions about future sustainable food production systems capable of ensuring household food security plus a surplus for the market, the countries within the region most, through Nepad and/or sub-regional bodies work side-by-side with national institutions, evaluate future food production trends carefully to avoid costly mistakes.  The headlines and thirst for spectacular journalism in the recent past appear to have created over-emphasis on the contributions of new varieties/support systems to the production increases in recent years.   

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As a result there is the danger that this may lead some policy makers to erroneous conclusions and programmes that may be detrimental to maximum development.  The new varieties plus the current emphasis by donors/lending institutions to provide support to agriculture alongside expanded input use and better on-farm management should be designed to play a larger role in generating productivity growth at the small subsistence farmer level.  This is a prerequisite to generating and sustaining household food security plus surplus for the market.  These should also serve as a catalyst of major changes in other areas, such as transportation and storage.  These contributions will be important in the future.  But, as spelt out in the “Rice Story” technologies provide necessary, but not sufficient, conditions for production development and productivity growth.  Other factors must be considered and used appropriately.  

Before looking at the sort of production system being suggested it is useful to consider why, after many years of development activity at the rural community level, the enabling environment for generating sustained food security is still very limited.   

In many rural communities in SSA, poverty triggered food insecurity remains stubbornly high and communities themselves appear to remain impotent and unable to do much about it.  One hypothesis which might explain this impotence is that community impotence itself has been diluted by the very presence of agencies, government and/or non-governmental organisations (NGOs).      

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These agencies have been, and are still, providing food production interventions at community level but often these do not result in lasting improvements in livelihoods. Most interventions are learning lessons for the project agents, short term, project-based, externally funded and hence unsustainable.  They tend to have little linkage to the local economy and are disempowering rather than empowering. In essence, many communities have become dependents and peripheral recipients of support, as opposed to being central activists in creating it.  

In addition, many NGOs and even government programme animators are multi-faceted – engaging in many numerous types of activity but often being true masters of none.  This is especially so of those which engage in an ad hoc manner in basic training for production increases.  These agencies rarely have a solid grasp of the prerequisites for yield increase and/or stability.  

In trying to change this scenario for the better, the target-based production approach must be used with a functional smart subsidy support.  This approach could be tested to ensure that appropriate input support under targets-based approach can be used to empower communities and increase prosperity. 


Building communication strategies based on solid knowledge

For any agricultural development programme with food security aspirations to succeed, it must offer a sound base in place to develop intervention activities which reflect the collective aspirations of the people.  Proven opportunities need to be “sold” and promoted.  To do this, a communication activity is essential for constituency building for agro-rural development and for drawing the attention of potential investors to opportunities.  This must be done early.  Creating awareness of opportunities should be targeted at all investors but also niche mechanisms and instruments for backup research that ensure increasing effectiveness and sustainability.  This is important because an increase in both private and public agricultural investment depends fundamentally on rising earnings and savings of farmers.      

In the absence of an effective and legitimate means of expressing dissent and opposition, both the government and the people are likely to be dissatisfied with each other.  You see interventions cannot be supported on the basis proclamations without any knowledge of the factors involved, the priorities assessed, the arguments for and against, or the calculation of   national interest.  Failure to communicate properly is not likely to strengthen support to development interventions.  It is almost always more persuasive to hear many sides of the argument, rather than just the final decision.

You see, popular participation in agro-rural development efforts would be better served by a spontaneous diversity of opinion, rather than an imposed uniformity of opinion.  The existence of a diversity of opinion would provide a forum for the discussion, explanation, and debate of public policy.  It would permit a means to assess popular response to government policy and to mobilise effective participation in agro-rural development interventions.  Without this opportunity for diversity, participation is meaningless and true development will evade us.   

Communication, literally, is the process of making a community.  This is perhaps the best defense for consultations/public debate: it is the best way to build sustainable food security for a durable agro-rural community.


Suruwa B Wawa Jaiteh

Irrigation agronomist/rice specialist



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