Tuesday, January 26, 2010

High Hopes for Rwandan Ag Development

Roger Thurow's report casts political will and ownership in the hero roles for Rwandan agricultural development. The only question he asks is if donor governments and institutions will step up to the plate, rather than if the plans themselves will be implemented and will work once implemented. The US rhetoric has been that developing government ownership and partnership is the new way of doing business. This has been promised before also.
And so, in December 2009, the U.S. and other western governments and leading development institutions came to Rwanda and finally put their words into action.
Note that words have already been put into action merely by the majestic appearance of the western representatives. The US representative, not incidentally, is a member of the US security council. In my paper measuring political will based on delegates, this would indicate a low commitment on the US side. On the other hand, the President of Rwanda is present, a sign of rather more commitment. Can we close the commitment gap?
While their food aid once again poured into other east and central African nations to rescue millions from starvation, the donors gathered in Kigali and ignited a Global Food Security Initiative that aims to help farmers grow more of their own food rather than merely feeding them. If it is successful and spreads to other countries on this most malnourished of continents, it could change the way hunger is fought and development aid dollars are spent, and usher in an agriculture revolution in Africa.
No, expectations are very realistic and not at all over the top.

A few facts about what needs to be done:
Typical of sub-Saharan Africa, about three-quarters of Rwanda’s population depends on farming for its own food and a bit of income. Agriculture provides one-third of the national income. Yet Rwanda’s rural infrastructure is underdeveloped. A lack of irrigation leaves it almost wholly dependent on rain. The hills are scarred with erosion. Markets are weak, transport is difficult, seed research is scarce. Since the genocide of 1994 ravaged the countryside, hunger reigned.
Here are some of those Rwandan hills, courtesy the Rwanda Development Gateway. The hills make mechanization rather less effective.

A few notes on what is being done:
"In 2007, the Rwandan government, anxious to cut its dependence on food aid, embarked on its own push to boost farm production. Since then, it has more than doubled its spending on agriculture, to 6.6% of its 2009 budget with a goal of 10% by 2012, according to the agriculture ministry. Rwanda was the first country on the continent to complete an investment strategy under the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP) of the African Union. ...

Within days of the Rwanda meeting, several countries, included Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, Uganda and Zambia, told the African Union they wanted to push ahead with their own agriculture plans.

From the agriculture ministry, Agnes Kalibata says Rwanda, after a long period of darkness, is eager to show the way. “We began this process feeling like a guinea pig,” she said, “but now we feel like a lighthouse.”
I do hope this works out. I am encouraged by the importance being given longer term agricultural development, particularly by the government itself. The rhetoric has the benefit of being the prescription of the day. I think it's a step in the right direction and hope that actions live up to the rhetoric. It has several more hopeful signs in terms of self-determination than the Millennium Villages, whose decisions are made for them "by a Professor in New York" as discussed recently by Barder. But this is the beginning of the path, not the end. Declaring success and saying we're up to lighthouse mode seems a bit premature.

I bring this up because when rhetoric sets expectations too high, anything realistic that happens is going to be a let down and a disappointment, fueling aid fatigue and giving the critics of all aid or your particular program more ammunition. The more we claim aid, markets, microfinance, international cooperation, or anything else will accomplish, the more we sound like an infomercial promising too much. More realistic, humble rhetoric leaves you free to celebrate the genuine successes you have and build on them. Being upfront about how results will be measured and evaluated would also be useful.

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