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Sunday, May 16, 2021

Reflections on agricultural and rural development key challenges

By Mamanding (Johnson) Kuyateh

With the ever-growing emphasis on “Strategies for Rural and Agricultural Development…” it becomes increasingly important to focus attention on challenges and gangrenes of the sector. The extent to which proposed “approaches, strategies and mechanisms” affect target beneficiary participants in real life situational development activities is of concern not only of the intrinsic appeal of the initiatives, but also of the extent to which the initiatives recognize and come into grips with the outputs if not the outcomes of these very programs.

There are Ten (10) major issues which draw attention of those working in the Agriculture and Rural Development Sector across the board:

1) Weak project design where official institutions are strengthened on the detriment of the real beneficiaries. For example, projects aimed at developing agriculture are (unwittingly or unintentionally), by accident or otherwise designed to strengthen the department and ministry of agriculture and not necessarily the farmer; the same apply in education where the ministry could be enhanced on the detriment of the classroom teaching and learning environment and so on ….

2) Weak land tenure systems, the strength and weakness of which could influence the level, type and timing of land labour. Here one will have to identify the following:

a) “Ownership” which may imply “Trusteeship” under the oldest living (predominantly) male member of the family responsible for family land management and administration

b) On the other hand, one may have continuous access to and use of land without being the “Owner”; meaning not having the right to end it out or dispose of it.

The above scenario with their variances are found in each and all parts that the author worked. The question of and tenure cannot be understood form a purely “Eurocentric” viewpoint.

In our Societies land provides community stability and continuity land becomes more significant rather than less in periods of otherwise rapid social and economic change. Our desirous dream to help increase food productivity and sustain food security requires that the question of land use and tenure systems be examined critically. The approach to Land Tenure should be highly practical and not pragmatic. These two basic categories of owners and users should always be kept in mind. The mechanism of customary land tenure prevails in all our communities, the allocation mechanisms are straightforward

However, it must be noted that village land is identifiable and inalienable (unless misconstrued by the mounting Latifundia) in community sense and there are no legally registered boundaries.

The example of this “smallest” Kiang District Village of Kunong Mariya owning the largest land area in the district urging other larger communities to annually renegotiate for access and use of livelihood farmland!

The generalities and specificities of land tenure for modernized agricultural development go beyond this paper suffice it to note that tenancy systems constitute challenging gangrene.

3) A third challenging gangrene is the Weak Farmer Association well wielded and representative springing from the bottom to the top NOT the types of elite stylish Farmer Platforms in response to externally oriented donor requirements. For example

Farmer Associations embrace virtual Standard Agency Top-Down Institutional Approaches where elite leaders make most of the decisions and the rank and file members carry them out without incentives; where leaders are usually of higher socio-economic status than the members; where differing interests lead to harmful tension and suspicion: with the rank and file unable to question the actions of the leaders; here leaders are chosen when the organization is first formed, hardly proven support from all members; hence, members are asked to respond to ready-made projects by outside entities with little or no intrinsic value in the activities. The ready-made complexity of the group’s aims and activities alienate them; so they become easily left out of the Bus-Band Wagon. This brings us to the Fourth Challenge

4) Weak Institutional Arrangements and Leadership at all levels form the micro to macro levels

The Practice of Decentralization and Community Participation does not happen in isolated situational vacuum. Suffice it to note that for any “Status Quo” there are “Winners” and “Losers”; hence any change or modification of the Status Quo brings about new types of “Winners and Losers” Challenges here include:

–   the misappropriate misplacement of the Elected Councils under the Dicta of non-elected bureaucrats and other State appointed Civil Servants who control and decide the direction of Civil Citizenry Democratically Elected “Autonomous” Councils. What a paradox!!!

–  Weak institutional coordination within and amongst decentralized government/local structures

–  Collaborating staff operating under the aegis of their respective centralized agency institutional commanding arrangements lack the needed impending coordinating arrangements

–  Supposedly collaborating partners respond each to purely sectoral views of their respective agencies and do not necessarily appreciate the fact that they are posted as Technical Assistance (TAs) to Local Government Area Councils

–   Gender mainstreaming and socially excluded issues are not necessarily understood

–   Multifarious collaborators lack clarity and the needed support to do their job within decentralized framework, betraying the entire principle and spirit of the Decentralization Act and Initiative

–   The confusing unclear roles and inter-agency rivalries give birth to the unnecessarily ever widening and heightening conflicts between the Village Alkalolu (responsible for Governance) and the Village Development Committee (VDC) responsible for general community development. These two crucial complementary village institutions (Alkalo and VDC) which have nothing in common end up fighting each other due to misappropriation institutional status and locations to name a few

Reviewing Evidences and Experiences here and there reveal the following characteristic obstacles to Decentralization and Community Participation under some broad headings:

Structural Obstacles: Our Centralized Systems lay less emphasis upon local mechanisms for administration and decision making hence greatly reducing the potentials for participatory decentralization.

Administrative Obstacles: Highly Centralized “Tree-Top” snobbish administration structures shield the “Grassroots” from sunlight hence denying the needed photosynthesis for the survival of the grassroots.

Social Obstacles: In discussing “Decentralization of Power”, we must distinguish STATE POWER” from SOCIAL POWER (where the former is more palpable the latter is less conspicuous yet more powerful)

In short, because The Council is the People’s Elected Legislative Representative Assembly it is the Area Council that is responsible by Act for Planning and not the Regional Technical Agency Staff

Indeed, Council is answerable to the its electorate; The Regional Technical Assistant Experts are meant to provide needed technical backstopping to the elected Council and VDC. In a decentralized system Local Governments Councils play crucially eminent roles.

5) A fifth challenge includes a) soil degradation (poor soil fertility); b) soil salinity and brackish waters; c) tremendous infrastructural needs (causeways, paths, bridges, spillways culverts…) that limit access to vast areas of cultivable productive fields.

6) Non usage of Appropriate Technology. It has to be emphasized that Appropriate Technology is not second hand Technology. It is the use of locally available knowledge, experiences, ideas and materials/equipment for economic affordability, local adaptability technological accessibility and socio-cultural accept.

7) This brings us to the inadequacy, untimely and uncoordinated arrival of inputs (fertilizers, implements, fuel, technical assistance and guidance…and other logistic support),

8) Weak, untimely and in some instances lack of credit/finance, markets and market outlets

9) Weak linkage and/or Dichotomy between Extension / Research / Training /Development

10)Weak if not absence of monitoring systems aggravated by absence if not limited written documentation and over reliance verbal instructions and feedback systems

11)The non-involvement of target population in the entire project process; in essence officialdom seems to plot against participants since there is a thin line between Planning and Plotting.

12)“People Participation” is a fashionable and ambiguous development Slogan which is more easily said than realized.  In this respect, the following question draws attention:        

People Participation in Agency Projects or Agency Participation in People’s Projects?   

Suffice it to note that the answer to each of the above would imply the use of relevant and respective institutional organizational arrangements at project implementation.

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