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Friday, October 15, 2021

The Rice Story: The need for a planned and programmed production approach

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.      

                                                                                                                                      SB Wawa Jaiteh

                                                                                                                                      Food Policy Workshop, 1982       


The journey so far 


The Gambia has had a long and unusually poor experience with rice development projects.  Such projects were introduced by the Colonial Development Corporation (CDC) in the mid ’50s in what was known as the Sapu Rice Farm.  Somehow, this project came to an end by the end of the decade.  The location of the former Sapu Rice Farm, is the present site covered by the Jahally Pacharr Smallholder Project (JPSP).  This colonial initiative was followed in 1965 by the Taiwanese Technical Team, through a technical cooperation programme.  Starting from their base in Yoro Beri Kunda (YBK), they turned the not-very useful landscape by the former Sankulay Kunda ferry crossing (now bridge) into a year-round rice and vegetable producing landscape that not only excited the curiosity of Gambians but equally aroused their dynamism and challenge.  This smallholder water-controlled production challenge was introduced in select rural communities in MacCarthy Island and Upper River Divisions, north and south bank.  The Taiwanese smallholder rice development initiative in the country was followed by the World Bank and other lending institutions like the African Development Bank (ADB), Islamic Development Bank (IDB), the Kuwait Fund (KF) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). 

After breaking diplomatic ties with Taiwan in 1975, the Peking Chinese came in and continued with rice and vegetable work up to 1996 when diplomatic ties were broken with Peking in favour of Taiwan.  This time around, Taiwan stayed up to about the end of 2013.  It is important to mention the breakthrough interventions by the German sponsored non-governmental organisation (NGO), Freedom From Hunger Campaign (FFHC) popularly known as the ‘konko bai kafo’ under the initial leadership of Axel Thoma (Babil Mansa).  It was during this ‘trying period’ that the author researched on and promoted tidal irrigation as a cheaper and dependable alternative to pump irrigation. These results were presented at the 1985 International Rice Commission Conference, International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), Laguna, Philippines and subsequently published by FAO in the International Rice Commission Newsletter of December, 1986.  

Due to the inability of most of our farmers to sustain the pump irrigated production system which requires production intensification with stable yields of 2.5 to 5.5 tons/ha per season (the production system was heavily subsidised at over 70% of operating cost), prompted Action Aid, The Gambia (AATG) an international non-governmental organisation (INGO) under Malamin Sonko MBE, to fund a special “feasibility study” and eventual promotion of tidal irrigation, specific to select AATG school communities.  After the successful feasibility study, AATG funded the implementation of special tidal irrigation projects for three school communities located in Sambel Kunda (perimeter site in Touba Sama, Niamina East); Jailan, Nianija and Bati Ndar, Upper Saloum.  Notwithstanding the impressive year-round yield levels attained by the AATG school communities, the record of donor and lending institution funded rice development projects in the country have been, at best, mixed.  While the past government sponsored rice development projects have created few scattered success stories in the historical performances of the late: Alieu Marong, Sulayman Hydara, Kangburama Dabo, Kemo Fatty, almost all of the rice development projects have had extremely disappointing results (none has achieved its outlined development objectives, determined by yield per hectare) and have subsequently failed to pass the important tests of sustainability and replicability.  The multi-million dollar funded Jahally Pacharr Smallholder Project (JPSP) represent the biggest rice development project failure. Most of the farmers are still at the lowest level of subsistence farming.  Like parts of the JPSP, most of the abandoned and under-utilised pump perimeters have since returned to nature.                  

Many reasons have been identified to explain this generally unsatisfactory outcome, and the list is generally long and meandering.  Yet the single most important necessary condition for success was commonly not met, namely that the opportunities and recommendations offered by rice development projects be individually profitable for the beneficiary households involved.  In addition, for public investments in rice development to be truly sustainable and replicable, they must be socially profitable for the village, district, region or country where they are located.  Both require participating beneficiaries to go through “yield revolution” designed to achieve the projected yield levels and beyond, that will satisfy the household food security needs plus a marketable surplus.  Social and individual profitability go together jointly as necessary conditions for success: the former makes public investment in rice development projects possible, and the latter makes it possible for individual households to adopt, follow and assume ownership of the programme/project in terms of long-term sustainability.


Prerequisites for productivity growth

Production change or improvement is said to occur when greater output is obtained for any given input level via the application/utilisation of better techniques, methods, practices or skills as a requisite for sustainable output change in rice production.  As a critical factor, output change can modify the farm production relationships leading to a higher production function and change in elasticities of resource substitution or factor rewards.  Overall, sustainable output change stimulates productivity growth and is often a source of great comparative advantage.  The expected marginal per capita productivity change in the rice subsector is not so much the problem of reversing the inadequate service provision as well as the pricing and marketing scenario but more of how to generate and diffuse, as quickly as possible, cost-effective output improvement on a sustainable endogenous basis.  This is one area where the Taiwanese as well as Peking technical experts and all the other donor and lending institution funded rice development programmes have qualitatively failed.  This is due to a lack of national clarity about what is expected from such interventions and our inability to link and promote the output targets to the household food and income needs of the beneficiaries.  

Rice development as a concept that is based on a targets-based production approach should not be confused with scattered individual achievements but rather as an integrated process of structural change for the rural and national milieu.  In other words it is not the number of development projects that have been and/or being implemented that is important but rather the emergence of different types of farmer institutions, the corresponding advent of new technologies, changes in on-farm management especially in research recommended input use, changes in patterns of land use, new structures of governance, new and innovative agrarian policies and other alterations in the patterns of the social fabric.  Important issues for sustained rice development must be concerned with how the ‘implementation activities’ designed to influence the broad process of rural and urban structuration can be continually improved?        

After experiencing series of unpardonable wastes and poor achievements in the rice industry, “what do we now need to know, as a nation, in relation to productivity growth, about the scope of government interventions in the rice sub-sector 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 research and development (R&D) for a stable and sustained increase in production. The indispensable starting point for an effective and efficient rice development programme, leading to productivity growth is to formulate a national rice development strategy/policy and to incorporate it in legislation.  Such a strategy/policy should specify objectives, clientele, funding arrangements, functions, and the place of the strategy/policy and its beneficiary farmers within the government structure and their relations with other governmental and non-governmental institutions involved in rice production and rural development. The policy should 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 may be other goals as well, governments generally establish and support   development strategies/policies mainly in the hope of raising both the volume and efficiency of national production.  In our search for the “causes” of productivity growth in agriculture, the rice industry in particular, it is not really the rate of investment that is important so much as the productivity of whatever investment the economic system undertakes. Examples of unproductive investments are the “Operation Feed Yourself” and the many tractors, the cabinet directive for the institutional restructuring of the Department of State for Agriculture (DoSA) and the many Mahindra tractors (which this author signed for in India). 

Despite the valid criticism of hasty and over-heavy provision of tractors for mechanization, the use of power holds a great reserve of possible progress, under a planned and programmed mechanised development approach.  Human muscle on sun-baked or half water-logged land will never create a high standard of living.  This is one of the causes of increased poverty in rural Gambia.  

For tractors to be productive and to have an important impact on society they must be appropriately planed and programmed as one of the main determinants of the agro-rural transformation process.  The economic conditions, the conditions of farming, the nature of soils, the design of equipment and the frequency of use, will all need careful watching.  When we look closely at the nature of resource poor farmers farm, its cultivation and its markets, and put the pieces together in a feasibility study, we will find that there is no possible way that their revenue could maintain a tractor if they are given one. 


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