Governance of agriculture transformation

In this final instalment, TAMANI NKHONO-MVULA* summarises his views on how Malawi can transform its agriculture. Read on:

Over the past three weeks I have been discussing the topic of agricultural transformation on the need for us to have a clear vision and roadmap of what we want to achieve within a stated timeframe and a clear definition of what agriculture transformation will mean in the Malawi context.

I also discussed the need for us to embrace science and technology and how that can be achieved if we are to see the transformation we are taking about. I also talked on agricultural entrepreneurship, the need for us to develop agriculture cooperative-led small and medium enterprise (SME). The industrialisation of the capitalist Europe started with SMEs.

This week, in this final article on this series I want to discuss something closer to my heart; the issue of governance.

Everything that I have shared will be meaningless if the issue of governance of the agriculture sector is not taken seriously because any development process rises or falls due to good or bad governance.

Looking at the stage and state of our agriculture, any strategy for the transformation of the sector has to arrange the sector and the value chains that make up the sector into innovation systems.

The agriculture sector in Malawi is made up of different players that include the farmers, government, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), private sector, donors and the academia.

All these are working together to bring about development in the sector. An innovation system, therefore, will be a well-coordinated network of all these organisations as they work together to bring new ideas, new processes and new practices and put them into economic use.

This system should also define the institutions and policies that should regulate the actor’s behaviour and performance.


Sector transformation

Sector transformation in all its forms, involves implementing multi-stakeholder interventions simultaneously in coordinating a complex stakeholder landscape like that of agriculture.

Noting also that agriculture growth and development is very much dependent on other sectors like energy, education, transport and others.

At the same time, it requires the development of a culture that continuously pilots, tests, monitors and adapts strategies and interventions for changing circumstances. Transformation also includes dealing with the challenges that appear in the process of change management especially among some stakeholders that are comfortable with the status quo.

This has been the main obstacle of many reform processes of the agriculture sector in Malawi. Above all let us emphasise that every transformation starts with a well-defined and clear vision, then a clear roadmap of achieving that vision, it requires dedicated and disciplined leadership that will inspire joint action and mobilisation to achieve the set vision.

The complexity of agriculture transformation also comes in due to the fact that the sectors’ success is much dependent on the goodwill of other sectors like energy, transport, telecommunication and others.

In the case of Malawi with its highly politicised civil service and national development processes, it will take the leader, in this case the President to realise the importance of agriculture in development and support the agriculture transformation agenda for national development and taking a leading role in this undertaking.

Let me say it here without the fear of contradiction that, the state of Malawi agriculture is a reflection of the kind of leadership we have been having and the political decisions they have been making on agriculture investments as no institution is above its leadership.

Failure of Malawi’s’ agriculture has been blamed on a number of things like climate change, Malawi being landlocked thus making our exports non-competitive and the like. I do agree that these pose a challenge, but these challenges are not unique to Malawi even our neighbouring countries who are making progress are equally affected.

Let us refrain from these environmental deterministic theories of why we are poor and why we are failing. Let us start thinking and doing the right things.


Food security

I have noted that since the dawn of multiparty democracy, every president has won the general elections on the promise of guaranteeing food security as this is the chief problem of the majority Malawians.

This kind of scenario has led to political decisions on agriculture to be mainly on attainment of food security, which could give somebody a better political platform quicker than looking at transformation issues, which at times may take a long time and in the process making somebody politically unpopular.

My question is; which leader will take the risk of working to develop Malawi despite the political cost than just thinking of the next general elections and their political survival?

Food security projects like the Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp) have also been sources of easy money for the politicians and the politically connected.

Agriculture transformation and development in Malawi will never happen this way, it will never happen unless the beautiful slogan of “Integrity, Hardwork, Patriotism” is not only on the billboards but in the hearts of Malawians. Starting from the leaders to the common peasant in the villages.


Effective governance

Looking at the Malawi agriculture landscape, the issue of effective governance will firstly, need the leadership to take a critical analysis of what specific roles each of the players should play and be held accountable on.

This will then need a thorough core functional analysis of the sector to be done as part of the broader public sector reforms.

This will assist in properly decentralising the functions from the ministry to other players in the process of vertical decentralisation as in devolving the responsibilities to the local councils or horizontal decentralisation as in giving some of the responsibilities of the ministry to other players like to the NGOs and the private sector.

The capacity of the ministry should now be strengthened to monitor and provide policy and standard backstopping to these actors.

The process of reforming the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development has taken a bit of time, however, it should be pointed out that a lot of good initiatives have taken place like the development of the Agriculture Sector Wide Approach (ASWAp).

This has to some extent helped in coordinating the efforts of the players in the sector, provided structures for mutual accountability and having one sector agenda.

However this has been compromised due to the rigidity on reforms and decentralisation, as the sector, despite having the multiplicity of actors still lacks a clear division of labour.


Civil society role

Additionally, with the challenges of Cashgate that led to most donors pulling out of direct budget support to government and to start supporting the sector interventions through NGOs, this somehow led to chaos.

Most of these NGOs do not have the masterly of the ASWAp and its indicators though all of them claim to be developing their programs in line with the ASWAp.

At the same time most of these NGOs are not accountable to the ministry when it comes to their monetary investments in the sector leaving government unaware of how much resources are circulating in the agriculture sector.

This may pose a challenge for government planning sector interventions. I would like however to point out the good work the civil society is doing in providing the smallholder and women farmers a political voice in the policy process but also monitoring agricultural policy making, budgeting and policy implementation.

However, mutual accountability between government and the civil society is still weak as only government being held to account.

The parliamentary committees, who are an important part in ensuring good governance in the sector, are also doing a commendable job of ensuring transparency and accountability. One notable achievement was on their role during the Maizegate investigations.

However, these committees have mainly held government to account; I would have loved if the mandate of committees like the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) be extended to summon NGOs because they receive money in the name of poor Malawians. Thus, in my view their resources become public money.

To sum it up, agriculture transformation will only happen if government is willing to take a stand and start doing the right things otherwise let’s forget about it.

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