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Wednesday, September 30, 2020

The Rice Story: part 4

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A review must be made of experiences gained in rice production across the country and an analysis of factors contributing to or constraining success.  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.      

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                                                                                                                                      SB Wawa Jaiteh                                                                                                                                     

 Food Policy Workshop, 1982       

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” have been 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problem, the agro-eco-physiological aspect of production that calls for national cooperation as outlined in the repealed National Agricultural Development Agency’s (NADA) proposed operational outline.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.  What do we now need to know, in relation to generating a ‘cost effective’ output growth in rice production, about the scope for government interventions in this subsector such that long-term sustainable development can be enhanced.   

 

Rice development strategy 

Increased and sustained rice production is a national responsibility in terms of establishing the methodology, policy, regulations, and the direction for the conduct of increased and sustained production. The indispensable starting point for an effective and efficient rice development programme is to formulate a national development policy and to incorporate it in legislation.  Such a policy will specify objectives, clientele, funding arrangements, functions, and the place of the rice development organisations within the government structure and its relations with other governmental and non-governmental institutions involved in rice production and rural development.  The policy will need to be conceived within the framework of macro-economic, social, and agricultural policy, government structure, and the total availability and pattern of allocation of national financial resources.  In the absence of a realistic national rice development policy, increased and sustained rice production and productivity growth cannot make its essential contribution to agricultural and national development, nor can external assistance be effectively used.    

Although there are other goals as well, governments generally establish and support operational methodologies and development strategies mainly in the hope of raising both the volume and efficiency of agricultural sector production.

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 institutionalized among the rice producing regions.  The need for new technology is nearly national, not limited to any region or group of regions.  In organizing 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    

 

Conclusion

The growth in size, urgency, and complexity of the production problems of rice should be matched by corresponding changes in the policies, organisation, management, and programme of work of the government.  I am sure that many development practitioners do recognise that the production programme and the second-generation problems top which the new technologies will be giving birth to, cannot be treated in isolation from the problems of unemployment, social justice, malnutrition, population growth, and pollution of the environment.  We also hope that the rice import ban, if that is possible within the next 10 to 15 years, will not be merely to produce more food or achieve rice self-sufficiency (impossible task).  The real purpose of the import ban should be to promote sustainable development in terms of producing quality food at lower prices and raising the incomes of the rural poor.  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 the rice value chain; other objectives affecting the farmer must be observed in the wider context of the well-being of the rural communities.    

Rice prices affect every family in the country.  But while a rise in the cost of eating is something which certain families in the urban, peri-urban, growth centers and those living on remittances can live with, it may be a matter of grave deprivation, starvation or death for resource-poor families in rural as well as urban and peri-urban Gambia.  The national rice economy is a subject of extreme importance, and although the proposed ban on rice imports by 2016 generates a useful challenge and contribution to understanding some of our current production problems, the optimism about our ability to sustain the import ban by 2016 is based on a seriously deficient analysis.      

This paper is about how best to conduct a planned and programmed increased rice production programme with particular reference to generating “productivity growth” in the rice industry as a prerequisite to sustained prosperity through rice.  This is in the context of the much talked about  “Vision 2016”, specifically relating to the rice import ban by 2016.  During the past decade, many stop-gap policies-cum-measures have been pronounced to stabilise the macroeconomic contest within which socio-economic development may be allowed to proceed, but it is probably fair to claim that the jury is still on the effectiveness of such measures.  This paper starts from the (axiomatic) position that while there is a lot to be praised in favour of the courage and ambition to ban rice imports by 2016 as a necessary condition for spurring domestic production, such a policy pronouncement may not in itself be sufficient. In particular there is an additional need for related judicious policies designed to ensure that the resource poor rural farmers, most of whom have to be supported to feed themselves and create a marketable surplus, can engage with such a policy adequately given their ‘cash input’ as well as “non-cash input” needs and restricted time frame, which is only valid for planning and programming purposes. 

The paper’s primary argument is that since cost effective rice production for import substitution and subsequent “import ban”, is a long-term phenomenon of structural change in the whole production system, the methodological problems involved in “getting handles” on the issues involved have been elusive and extremely difficult to handle.  Certainly our short comings are not comprehensible even with the involvement of the “Two Chinas” and the series of multi-million dollar unproductive involvement of lending institutions and donors over the past five decades. 

This series begins by reviewing this points very briefly with reference to our failed attempts like ‘the unplanned and extraordinarily wasteful operation feed yourself backed by many tractors’; the institutional restructuring of the Department of State for Agriculture; the characteristic instability and embarrassing “policy reversals” the “so-called economic crime cases” which are important contributors to the decline of the sector, since there has been little institutional memory and or continuity. Nevertheless it is becoming realized increasingly that the proposed ‘ban on rice imports’ may not be as necessary as a “focus on cost effective production system” designed to force rice imports to sell themselves out of the market.  This is possible with our comparative advantage in the rice sector and should constitute our focused challenge.  We should take inspiration from our numerous comparative advantages in rice production which has created enviable “indigenous technological capabilities”. With indigenous professional planning and involvement, this country can resume the production of high value rice varieties like the “Saddam”, “Basmati”, “ROK 5”, “Jasmine”, etc. which can be easily produced and profitably sold 15 – 20% below the imported ones.  We are in a global village, we don’t need to ban imports BUT we can force importers to sell themselves out of the market through a comprehensively coordinated cost-effective production system.  I submit that this should be our national challenge. 

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