Government Contributions: A Word of Caution

JackWaterOptLimited Prospects: Unfortunately, government contributions to development programs have to be considered as minimal, and perhaps best discouraged. This is basically because of the very limited tax base has Financially Stalled the government’s ability to provide support services. This has also resulted in extremely low government salaries to the extent that financial necessity means government officials are more interested in informal income opportunities that tend to be more interference than assistance to development projects as shown with the seed and fertilizer voucher program in Afghanistan. As disconcerting as the pursuit of informal income may appear, it has to be viewed as the result of the limited tax base and financially stalled government for which most expatriate development professionals would become equally involved, if they were also trapped in the economic and administrative environment found in most developing countries. This also means that at the community level implementation of poverty alleviation projects might be better facilitated by NGO’s instead of large consulting firms with their greater mandate for capacity building of government institutions. Capacity building that usually concentrates on the technical capacity of individual government officers, but normally does not address the financial restriction under which they operate. Restriction that usually stalls programs once development projects are concluded. This can also result in services like soil testing and seed quality becoming more an opportunity for officers to earn some informal income, than an effective service to agriculture.

It might be actually better to encourage civil servants to resign from government and become part of the private support services. Their knowledge of agriculture would be better used for the benefit of smallholder producers in the private support services and they would most likely be financially better off, without the continued hassle needed to pursue the informal income opportunities. Assisting resigning civil servants to go into private support services might be effective use of micro-finance credits.

Research & Extension: The limits of government involvement will also apply to research and extension programs. Government revenue funds can rarely do more than sustain imported germplasm, which is all that normally remains after any extensive donor assisted research development project reverts to revenue funds. Even that is often defaulted to Collaborative Programs with the IARCs that from the CGIAR system. Extension efforts just can not afford the manpower needed to maintain direct administratively links to each smallholder as envisioned in extension programs like the Training and Visit (T&V) system and why it deteriorated until the acronym became “Talk & Vanish”. It also has to be recognized that most extension recommendations are aimed at the climatic potential without factoring in the limited operational resources the smallholder producers have to implement the recommendations and this reduces the overall effectiveness of the recommendations. Thus, most technical packages can only be Adopted on a very limited part of the farmers land. Thus, what extension is possible has to concentrate on mass media including distribution of appropriate brochures that might easily be done via the village shops mentioned earlier. They have a vested interested in promoting better agriculture production as it quickly impacts on their business opportunities. Mass media should also include the broadcast media of both radio and TV, as while many smallholders can not afford to own TVs, they may have ready access to them through community gathering places such as bars and teahouses. Also, it is essential to trust the farmers and their established farming skills to quickly “fine tune” any suggestions to their limited operational resource base and economic environment. This would effectively tap into the Informal Information & Distribution System where most farmers actually receive most of the innovative information they use and obtain the new materials they utilize.

Pricing Policy: One area where government can be effective and donor assistance could play a major role is price policy. Developing country governments have a very legitimate concern in trying to maintain fairly low food prices for the largely impoverished urban populations. This often results in mandated ceiling prices for staple food such as maize or rice. Depending on what the ceiling prices are, they could easily lower the economic optimal rates for inputs such as fertilizer, as well as other agronomic practices including the number of tractors that can profitably operated within a community. This could lower the profitable yield potential which even the limited educated farmers in remote areas will quickly recognize and make the necessary adjustments in their crop management. The end result could be to inadvertently hinder overall production of the staple crops and national food security. Governments could use some macro-economic assistance in determining the optimal ceiling price that will assure reasonable food prices to the urban poor while still encouraging enough production to assure food security without needing continued food aid. An interesting example of supressed ceiling prices could be wheat price in Afghanistan. Wheat is a winter crop the same as opium poppy. Thus the question is how much poppy production could be reduces by simply rising the farm price of wheat and increase it competitiveness with poppies?

Last Revised: 25 March 2010

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