The challenge of food self-sufficiency
Thursday, June 26, 2008
The challenge of productivity growth is the sole basis for the generation of food self-sufficiency. This cannot be avoided, it is the only route.
Therefore, we must be resolved to consider the on-going food crisis as a welcome challenge for the creation of a new targets-based production ethic in the agricultural sector. The global food crisis must commit us to the attainment of food self-reliance, the provision of necessary institutional support facilities and the rectification of previous production failures.
While we should frown at the traditional low level underutilization of our unique comparative advantage, there are compelling reasons to insist on a targets-based production approach as a solution to most of our agro-rural development problems.
The resource-poor farmers who constitute the overwhelming majority of our population and their primary production problems - poverty itself, low production, the unequal access to the basic production necessities/inputs and to the basic opportunities for self-advancement and development - must be recognized as having primary claims on government policies, programmes and resources.
Let me put the record straight. We cannot be Self-sufficient in rice at the moment. Rice self-sufficiency belongs to the post-salinity control measures to be undertaken by the Gambia River Basin Development Organization (OMVG). What we can achieve for the moment, within a short-term targets-based concentrated work period, is rice-based food-sufficiency. In the next write up, I will outline in detail why self-sufficiency in rice is not feasible at the moment and, alongside this, I will also provide a multiple objective planning method.
What can be done?
In the past, agricultural growth in the country has been achieved mainly by cultivating larger areas. However, the potential for area expansion is getting more and more limited. Some underexploited lowland areas remain, but these are mostly marginal or forested, and destruction of such ecosystems - even for agriculture - would cause more problems than it would provide solutions.
The only way forward is therefore to increase the yield of existing farms - to intensify agricultural production. Intensification requires use of modern varieties responsive to fertilizer treatment and the timely application of more nutrients to the fields. These can either come from ‘external’ inputs, such as mineral fertilizers, or from locally available soil amendments including organic matter.
The approach to food self-sufficiency is neither an easy nor a cheap undertaking. It is costly by any standard. It success justifies the cost. Productivity growth as a prerequisite to the attainment of food self-sufficiency must be executed in partnership with resources-poor smallholder producers.
These are the authentic private sector, who constitute the overwhelming of our people and their primary problems - poverty itself, low production, unequal access to the basic necessities of life and to the basic opportunities for self-advancement and development - must be recognized as having primary claims on government policies, programmes and resources. Within this context, comprehensive package of services must be made available to the farming community such as a comprehensive supervised input supply system, credit, farm advisory service system, irrigation, rural electrification, small- and medium-scale agro-industries and other supplementary employment opportunities on a scale never before envisioned or carried out. Unless these fundamental structural support changes are in place, neither NEPAD’s 6% growth in agricultural productivity nor the World Bank’s MDG goals will be achieved. Indeed, we may retreat away from all these targets.
We should design these productivity growth support incentive strategies to be a comprehensive framework, because our national social situation called for it, and to be developmental because our agricultural situation required it.
An upward movement
Farmers may improve the use and recycling of nutrients by applying innovative soil and water conservative methods. However, in order to raise agricultural productivity substantially these methods must be combined with the application of both organic and mineral fertilizers. Because organic sources of soil improvement have low nutrient content and are not abundant, relying on these sources alone is not feasible.
Similarly, using inorganic fertilizers alone may lead to short-term gains but stores up problems in the long-ter, such as soil acidification and loss of soil texture, both of which lead to yield decline. The best strategy is therefore to combine inorganic and organic soil amendments; the mineral fertilizer provides most of the nutrients while the organic fertilizer increases soil organic matter, structure and buffering capacity. This is defined as:
Integrated Soil Fertility Management (ISFM)
The rationale for intensification based on ISFM is simple. There are synergies from using both inorganic and organic fertilizers that not only boost nutrient levels but also improve the efficiency of nutrient and water use.
Increasing production by providing alternative and more3 intensive technologies is only one rung on the ladder to productivity take-off; the other conditions must also be met if intensificatioin is to become economically sustainable and if food is to get where it is needed. Farmers must be able to access high-quality inputs at the right time and at reasonable cost. Moreover they need to produce surplus and be able to sell these at a fair price.
Linking farmers to input-supply and product-value chains is a huge challenge. Sustainable agricultural intensification needs a carefully assembled strategy that links the highly diverse farming systems of small holder farmers to specialized supply chains, that strengthens the competencies of the various actors involved, and that also addresses the fundamental causes of production as well as market failures.
These strategy has been outlined in various programme/project proposals based fertilizer use-rate and use-efficiency, community asset and wealth creation, the formation of agribusiness clusters which should make a major contribution to district/regional goals. Agribusiness clusters, within the concept of a targets-based productivity growth, should consist of progressive performers who would be eligible for additional funding to enable them participate more fully in the net working process.
Conclusion: Enabling conditions for productivity growth
Much of the investment for the sustainable promotion of the targets-based production intensification prerequisites are intended to respond to the productivity situation facing our resource-poor smallholder farmers. Yet we also need to address many other production problems if we are to permanently address the declining trends of the food production sub-sector.
There should be no illusion or quick fixes or miracle paths towards national self-reliance in food and agriculture. Achievement of a productive and sustainable sector will require us to address a complex set of challenges, including the following:
. Low internal effective demand due to poverty
. Limited access to technology and low human capacity to adopt new skills
. Vagaries of climate and consequent risk that deters investments
. Institutional weaknesses for service provision to the entire agricultural chain from farm to market.
Furthermore, we will also need to improve the policy as well as the framework for productivity growth to make them more supportive of local community participation in rural areas. We will need to improve governance, in terms of giving voice to both small and large-scale players in the farming community.
If these constraints are eased through a combination of actions, a virtuous cycle can be started of reduced hunger, increased productivity, increased incomes and sustainable poverty reduction. All the above reqquire commitment of a high order. Regrettably, the past decades have revealed that little attention has been paid to agricuclture and rural development.
The Need For Planning
The objective of economic policy, therefore, from the long-term point of view and in terms of the overriding objective of economic development, is to channel the production surplus to agro-industry for value adding. Overtime, this leads to industrialization proper which absorbs both the production and labour surplus.
How this is done, how the linkage of surplus production to agro-industrialization is to be pursued in order to realize maximum results, is the central problem of planning. The mere wish to be self-sufficient in food does not constitute a way out of the condition of underdevelopment. Once the choice is made to be self-sufficient in food, the compelling problem is how to direct the main prerequisite, productivity growth.
This involves three crucial issues of policy: a) what commodities should be produced by a transformed agriculture to trigger the self-sufficiency process; b) what technology should be used in the production process; and c) the level of institutional support to be provided (skilled and knowledgeable farmer advisory service, production inputs - seeds, fertilizer, chemicals, supervised credit, assisted self-planning and individual/group evaluation).
The choice of production input and commodity mix in the agricultural sector is conditioned by a wide number of factors. We can produce food and cash crops for domestic consumption and for export on a sustainable basis, but this effort is heavily constrained by the resource poverty of the small holder farmer producers and the failure of the institutional support system to guide them do just that.
For productivity growth to prosper, be sustained and stabilized for a self-sufficiency take-off, production levels have to rise, and since the predominant economic activity of the small holder farmer is agriculture, it becomes all important that agriculture must be supported to ensure the launch of a stable agriculture-led development. Along these lines, agricultural capital goods manufacturers (that could be coordinated by the foundry at the GTTI) can proceed to produce the capital goods that a transformed subsistence agricultural sector normally imports from abroad.
The capital goods manufacturing effort should be directed towards the production of time and labour saving equipments, and this choice should be significantly conditioned by the aging and aged labour that presently dominate farming. Formidable difficulties arise from challenging a subsistence farmer with a targets-based surplus production approach. It is a worthy and timely challenge which, because new and ambitious, raises problems of adjusting to a ‘new set’ of work ethic geared to satisfying targets. Assuming that the targets can be sustained and the surpluses created are stabilized over time, the self-sufficiency take-off comes in automatically.
B.How can farmers be challenged to boost production?
As an agrarian society, with more than 65 percent of the population dependent on agriculture for their livelihood, it is generally recognized that we will only be able to develop, and sustain the development process, if there is considerable growth in the welfare of this 65% of the population. This growth leading to the welfare of this 65% can only come from the agricultural sector.
Only such growth can avert hunger, alleviate poverty, reduce food dependency, increase exports, promote import substitution, restrict rural migration and release sufficient income to establish a market for manufactured goods. This is the fundamental basis determining the NEPAD goal of 6% annual growth in agricultural production to be able to reach the UN’s Millennium Development Goal of halving poverty and hunger by 2015.
The following targets could guide the formulation of incentive policies to attract farmers to boost production:
i) Consolidate the market for domestic food production;
ii) Promote a price policy that is more favourable to agriculture;
iii) Improve the supply and affordability of inputs, factors of production and consumer
goods in the rural rural areas;
iv) Promote a marketing policy to streamline distribution in the rural areas and
improve outlets for agricultural production;
v) Increase supervised credit facilities and provide greater access to farmers;
vi) Improve feeder roads and transport at tolerable expense;
vii) Improve the transfer and adoption of technical know-how to enhance production;
viii) Promote greater rural population responsibility for development decisions;
ix) Promote the development of human resources in a more appropriate and
Author: by Suruwa B. Wawa Jaiteh