The $1.7 billion pledge, National Development Plan and agro-rural development: Issues for consideration

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Suruwa B. Wawa Jaiteh I write to congratulate Your Excellency, the UDP-led Coalition Government, the entire Gambian people and our benevolent development partners for the $1.7 billion pledge. This is an extremely huge and purposeful investment package, the kind that this country never had. It may also be the kind that may destroy us. Your Excellency, the evidence-based thought I would like to share with you, the UDP-led Coalition Government, and the National Assembly Members, is that, we are an agrarian society. As an agrarian society, agriculture serves as the main “engine of growth” at this stage of our economic development. Agriculture plays this role because the sector accounts for a high share of economic activity in the country and that agricultural activities have powerful growth linkages with the rest of the economy. Therefore, any sustainable transformation of the New Gambia, leading to a sustainable agriculture-led growth, must be hinged-upon and revolve-around the smallholder production system. Furthermore, Your Excellency, a special priority must be accorded to the resource-poor smallholder subsistence beneficiaries who are the biggest private sector in the country, in need of comprehensive development support, to be able to fulfill their private sector role in society. Smallholder agriculture is of major importance in any balanced development strategy because it represents a source of labour and of nutritional safety for the country. Any policy which causes a detrimental change in the income structure of smallholders leads to a destabilization of society, endangering the nutritional status of a large proportion of the population and increasing the rural exodus and the cost of urbanisation. It may interest Your Excellency, to know that, at the time of the military take-over in July 1994, The Gambia was one of 13 countries in the world that achieved major success in attaining the goals of the first world food summit. Out of the 13 countries, 5 are African (Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali, Nigeria, The Gambia), that had the largest reduction in the proportion of people undernourished between 1980 and 1996. During that time, Your Excellency, the country was 25% self-sufficient in rice and 80% in coarse grains. For the attainment of this unique achievement, the country owes much gratitude to the smallholder subsistence production system. In spite of this unique achievement and the institutional commitment that made it possible, a continuous decline in agricultural gross domestic product (AGDP) took centre stage after the 1994 military take over. This unfortunate scenario and the poor governance that was its enduring strategy, gave birth to institutional destruction, here-today-gone-tomorrow syndrome, an increased incidence of absolute poverty, malnutrition, worsened income distribution, increased rural to urban migration and frustrated efforts at poverty reduction. The existing economic situation in the country is one of the cumulative effects of a downward economic spiral that has it major roots in the decline in agricultural output. Your Excellency, to repeat the unique agro-rural development achievements of the first Republic, the UDP-led Coalition Government must be guided by a professionally outlined methodological approach, in content and in focus. Furthermore, for our so-called national development plan (NDP) to be a true response to national realities, it must be broken-down into village/cluster/district/regional development plans, based on the specific needs of these areas. The transformation of Gambian Agriculture, Your Excellency, requires the development of intimate linkages between societal needs and the use of the resources in the agricultural system. The elimination of malnutrition, creation of sustainable on-farm and off-farm employment for the smallholder subsistence farmer, the youth and our toiling women, closing of the gap between the rural and urban standards of living, reduction of dependence on imports and the redistribution of resources in the national interest are important social needs that, should constitute the goals towards which the transformed agricultural system and the technology it uses should strive. The realization that the nation has never had a successful/viable/sustainable donor or lending institution funded agro-rural development programme/project before, is only a part of the challenge to be faced. The UDP-led coalition Government inherited an endemic failure of agro-rural development projects as a legacy. It is unfortunate that, Your Excellency, the destroyed capacity that has been failing us for two decades, has not been supported to grow fast enough to be able to cope with what is happen in the country today. For beyond the mechanism for control and planning, there is the larger challenge of determining what kind of policies would really serve to spur the economy into growth. These are the sort of reform policies that would favour the smooth functioning of the New Dispensation, which should be tested in a pilot project for further up-scaling. After more than six-decades of technical cooperation at the bilateral and multilateral levels, our development partners have been very slow to recognize their ignorance of our rural and cultural environments towards which we direct investments (grants & lending institution loans). The implications of their ignorance have only become clear after decades of producing “solutions” that are not “appropriate.” The Jahally/Pacharr Smallholder Project (JPSP) as well as all the other donor as well as lending institution funded agro-rural development projects/programmes are examples of failed interventions. Under this unfortunate scenario, Your Excellency, what do we now need to know, in relation to investments, about the scope for government interventions in the economic systems (specifically, productive sector) such that long-term sustainable development can be enhanced? In the use of the $1.7 Billion pledge and any other loan/grant (for the agro-rural sector), we must be guided by an evidence-based fact that in the search for “causes” of economic growth, it is not really the rate of investment that is important so much as the productivity of whatever investment an economic system undertakes. After two tragic decades of development disconnect, putting the country back into focus will need some serious, planned and programmed investment studies/surveys that should begin with a searching analysis of our national economic problems, with special reference to agro-rural development. · Why have our donor and lending institution funded development programmes/projects failed in the past? · Why was the national economy perennially in crisis? · How can the economy break out of stagnation and drift? The recent impact assessment by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) of its $2.8 Billion investment in The Gambia showed pervasive poverty. This is poverty seen and felt everywhere. The result could equally be the same for ADB, IDB and World Bank investments in the agro-rural sector. All such investments contributed to the graveyard of failed development programmes/projects all over the country. This perversion of the politico-development-democratic process is especially evil in a developing agrarian society like The Gambia, where the government must exist for one purpose, and one purpose alone: to develop the mechanisms and the bases for the achievement of that society for which the poor (the resource-poor subsistence farmers) – the overwhelming majority of the population – have been historically clamoring. It will not do to simply describe the needs of the poor-subsistence farmers, to note their existence, to pay verbal obeisance to their righteousness – to do so merely would be to incur the condemnation of history and to risk a social confrontation in which the entire nation will suffer. The political process must serve the smallholder’s need rather than fan his problems further; it must respond to it rather than tactically repress it through a so-called transformation exercise in self-mockery. I have always believed that the struggle for national development can only be won in the rural areas. This belief must be reflected in the fundamental thrust of the National Development Plan (NDP) which must outline agro-rural development plans specific to the needs of each of the villages/clusters/districts/regions of the country. Furthermore, what is urgent now is the NEED for a comprehensive framework for an agro-rural development programme and NOT a donor and/or lending institution funded agricultural transformation programme (ATP). It is embarrassing that the New Gambia under a UDP-led Coalition Government can support the implementation of an agricultural transformation programme (ATP) without a) restructuring the Ministry of Agriculture; b) needs assessment survey (NAS) and c) following the known pathways to agricultural transformation. This is embarrassing. It would appear we are not capable yet of putting plans together which will solve our problems. This is a fundamental reality. The way we are going about with agro-rural transformation is not going to work and may create serious agrarian unrest in the country. The National Assembly Members (NAMs) should be aware of this and, critically study any document in his regard and vote against it, if it is not smallholder farmer centered.]]>