LETTERS: State intervention in agriculture sector vital

spray crops
Farmers are shown how to spray crops. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

There’s little doubt that high-level political will is vital in securing a nation’s economic progress. However, political support that translates into government action couldn’t be more important to a sector than it is for agriculture.

In fact, according to the African Agricultural Status Report (AASR), experts report that it could be more crucial than improved seeds, conducive weather and appropriate soils. This in essence means that state action to drive agricultural transformation is not only undeniable but also extremely essential in the African context.

It is for this reason that when heads of state and government from different African nations gathered at the African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) to measure progress on Africa’s agricultural transformation, the move was seen as a positive sign of progress.

Further to this, a statement made during the forum by Rwanda’s president, who also doubles up as the African Union chairperson, provided a palpable sense of optimism about the African leaders’ commitment to the agricultural transformation agenda.

His statement noted that “We have everything to succeed. We must start treating farmers as clients.”From his statement, it couldn’t be more evident that there is a general consensus that strong government leadership that prioritizes farmers as clients could be a strong foundation for broader economic progress.We have everything we need to succeedThere is no shortage of models that provide evidence that agriculture is a powerful engine for economic growth.

Taking China for instance, its agricultural transformation program is attributed to have driven down rural poverty from 53 percent in 1981 to eight percent in 2001. It is also through a thriving agricultural sector that Vietnam was able to drive down poverty from 56% to the paltry eight percent currently.Additionally, there are numerous examples, closer home, that provide evidence that nations that have marshaled political support for agriculture have been able to create, catalyze and sustain economic growth in the nations.

The most recent example is Rwanda where after a decisive push for political, policy and financial commitments, 2 million Rwandans (25% of the population) were able to lift themselves out of the poverty trap. Moreover, the World Bank estimates that 65 per cent of the increase of the average annual income (from $250 to almost $650) can be attributed to the thriving agricultural sector.If the knowledge and lessons from these nations can be acted upon, then the success can be replicated to other East African nations.

It is no surprise, therefore, that President Kagame is bullish in stating that ‘we have everything we need to succeed.’ We know what works.However, the big question that remains is, in what ways can nations pair political will with government action to drive the transformation that is so desperately needed in the agricultural sector ?

The answer could be found in President Kagame’s latter part of the statement. The government needs to treat farmers as clients. Both literally and figuratively.Farmers as clientsIn regards to the former, it is true that the smallholder farmers find themselves in an era where they struggle to access structured markets. Therefore preferential procurement schemes instituted by governments to purchase their food supplies directly from smallholder farmers would be music to the ears of the farmers.

In Kenya for instance, statistics from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) indicate that government agencies spend close to $500 million on food supplies annually. A reservation scheme that treated ‘farmers as clients’ would provide a stable and structured market for them instead of leaving them to the mercy of middle-men who buy their produce at throw away prices.Speaking figuratively, governments could treat farmers as clients by changing their approach to how they view this cardinal profession.

Agriculture is a business and therefore states should view it as a means for its citizenry to create wealth. To do this, nations need to increase their spending for agriculture. Investments in agriculture should reflect the commitment made by the African heads of state in the Malabo Declaration where they pledged to allocate 10 percent of their budgets to agricultural development. In fact, the Asian tigers had invested between 15-20 percent of their national budget at the time of their green revolution. Therefore, to sanction a uniquely African green revolution, sufficient investments are a prerequisite.

Victor Mugo, via email