By Berhanu Fekade
Ambassador David Lane is US ambassador to the Romebased UN agencies, World Food Program (WFP), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD).
As part of his routine fact-finding visit to countries which benefit from the support of such agencies, Ambassador Lane was in Mozambique last week. He was there to learn how the agencies are doing in terms of achieving food security and agricultural productivities in rural Mozambique. Ambassador Lane was quite positive on the collaborative activities of the agencies. He visited success stories like Lucas Mujuju, who is in the process of transforming it into an entrepreneur. Mujuju is set to establish a factory that will produce yoghurt out of soya beans. In spite of that, however, the ambassador regretted the fact that he couldn’t see or witness the actual linkage between government policies and that of the agencies on the ground in Mozambique.
He invited six journalists from Africa including Birhanu Fikade of The Reporter to join him in his visit and later on to sit down with him to discuss agriculture and food production activities in Mozambique and the rest of continent.
The Reporter: Your mission was to appraise the activities of the Rome-based agencies in African, in Mozambique to be exact. So, how did you see their activities?
Ambassador David Lane: At this point I would say I have mixed observations and mixed feelings. The most positive, to be honest, are the individual farmers. The things that have impressed me the most was the case of one farmer/entrepreneur who was trying to make yoghurt out of soya beans. His drive and how creative and clever he was impressed me the most. I have seen a farmer who is trying to create fish ponds. That conforms the expectation from other trips that I had taken. If given the opportunity, farmers in a developing country, so to say, in Africa, are capable of great things, and last December, I was in Cambodia and the same thing was true there. Farmers can be quite geniuses, and they can figure out things to take to the next level. If the policy environment is conducive and supportive to them, that’s what I could observe. There are a number of players in Mozambique with the Rome-based agencies, the USAID and the national government, the different district governments and lots of district players. On the one hand, I am impressed to see that the Rome-based agencies know each other and work well together. I am still unsure whether there is policy coherence across the country. Even after days of visit, mostly to the country- sides, where everything is heading, is something I still need to find out. But, when the pieces fit together then it would be clear. Nothing happens instantly and the rediscovery of agriculture in Mozambique is relatively young which is during the past ten years. Agriculture used to be the center of development thinking. Leaders of developing and donor countries somehow thought agriculture is old-fashioned. But, they found out later that it was a terrible assumption. Hence, we discovered it and we are still figuring it out. It’s not going to come out automatically. It takes leadership and coordination. That I think is a work in progress in Mozambique.
One of the problems here is that some of these projects and ideas tend to phase out even before they were well-understood by governments and the people benefiting from it. so why is that happening?
When we choose to see projects or somebody recommends some projects, not all are implemented. First, the projects have to be tested through the pilot approach before they are approved for implementation. If successful, those projects will be scaled up. I think we have seen an entrepreneur who is making yoghurt out of soya bean. We saw a farmer digging up fish ponds. If there are models that are workable, it’s our goal to multiply those experiences and share them across the boundaries. The scaling up part is based on a belief that both commercial and small-holder farming practices are one and the same with the exception of the scale; that actually is my opinion. If there are projects to be scaled up, they need to be dynamic in economic terms. That’s why some of us believe that there has to be an incentives to get a kind of momentum. But at the early stages, since we are talking about development, it takes time. The government has the responsibility. In 2003, we were in Mozambique where African heads of state made a commitment to spend ten percent of their budgets for agricultural development under the program called Comprehensive Agriculture for Africa’s Development (CAADP). Yes, things are difficult in many countries; when you set a goal, if it was easy to do it it would have been done yesterday. I think Ethiopia and other few countries have met the Maputo declaration. To be honest, once the models are tested and approved, we need governments to step up and to make the investments that are required for scaling up. The Maputo commitment and the entire conversations were about scaling up agricultural projects. I think that’s very important.
In some countries like Ethiopia, the government tries to work with the agencies and donors in a group called Development Assistant Group (DAG). Did you observe such kind of a relationship in Mozambique?
Interestingly enough, Rwanda and Ethiopia stood out for their commitments to country ownership. Rwanda has done well in that regard. Coming to the issue of commitments to agriculture and coordination, I think in Ethiopia there are frustrations with the different ministerial set-ups which, by the way, also happens in the US. The Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA) takes the credit for working to resolve some of this coordination problems. Tanzania has adapted as well because they have realized that it takes years to make it happen. Rwanda and Ethiopia made agriculture, health and education priority sectors. But, these are countries which have uniquely prioritized agriculture and made policy coherence and coordination top of their agenda. From the visit, one thing that I am not clear about in Mozambique is this: whether there is coordination or not, or if it is across the agencies or with the government is not clear. I want to see and find out if everybody is working on the same page.
Tell us what you mean when you talk about country ownership?
In 2009 The Feed the Future program was launched as an initiative by the US President Barack Obama. Later on, the program was introduced in Italy, where the G8 were holding their meeting and the leaders put forward what they call the Rome Principles. One of these key principles was country ownership. Countries need to own their own destinies. The G8 signed up for all of that. Country’s leadership is the one that sets the direction and the G8 said they are there to support in all the process. The other thing to mention regarding country ownership is what president Obama once said about Africa and that it does not need strongmen just strong institutions. The future of their continent is up to Africans. In other words, he was saying that Africans don’t have to look to donors to have all their answers. It means that you set the directions and then let us come in and enable you. That’s what I think we are trying to do; help build pilot programs and identify the basic ingredients. At the end of the day, it’s the countries themselves that need to set the directions so that we can follow.
Mozambique as Ethiopia depends highly on agriculture where 80 of the labor force is employed in the sector. But, hunger and food security are still issues. On the other hand, extreme poverty and hunger is on the top of the Millennium Development Goals. In this context, were you satisfied by what you have seen?
I think agricultural development is important for food security and prosperity. All countries want to develop their agriculture and free up part of the labor force employed by agriculture to go to other more productive sectors. I think that is the vision in many countries. In Ethiopia, I know that food security is the highest priority. The late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is remembered for setting up an audacious goal to be food self-sufficient within a short period of time. Food security matters, but it also makes sense to take it as an economic tool for transformation. In Mozambique, I saw so many things to be optimistic about with respect to economic development. The Purchase for Progress Program that we saw in Mozambique helping small-holder farmers is one of the good signs. There has been some progresses in the food security side as well. On the food security side, progress in nutrition is the case in point. The productivity gains may have been focused on dramatically increasing the amount of food production. We might have forgotten the contents of the food. It’s not about calories, especially when it comes to children. But, there is a growing awareness about the nutritional value of the food these days. I pretty optimistic about food security.
How do you see the situation of small-scale farmers in Mozambique?
I tell you one of our stories. When I was in Malawi and Tanzania a couple of years ago, at the end of the trip while holding a press conference, one of the reporters said ‘Ambassador, I am confused. You keep talking about small-holder farmers but you also talk about commercialization in agriculture. Which is it you support?’. I said to him, ‘You have just revealed the problem’. The way I see it, smallholder farmers need to be part of the system. They should not be treated as peasants or as those who are trying to provide food only to their families. They should be part of the bigger system. What we saw from the Purchase for Progress staff is that those farmers are producing enough to feed their family. And that is one good thing and minimally acceptable. We need to boost their productivity so that we can address food security. But that is not a success. The success is that when those farmers are able to produce high quality and sufficient quantity of food, they can both feed their family and participate in the system. Sometimes, I think it’s very condescending when people talk about smallholders and that they are completely outside the commercial system. But that is not how smallholders see themselves. The Soya Yogurt guy is a farmer but he sees himself as a businessman. If you interview smallholder farmers in Tanzania, you will see that they see themselves as businessmen and they had entrepreneurial drive. When you ask them what they want, they probably say credit, but in the next breath they say they want entrepreneurial skills. I think it makes complete sense to talk about markets and commercialization with the same breath with which you talk about smallholders.
The US government has been providing support to a number of sectors in Africa. This time, the focus is food security. Why has the focus shifted to feed the future?
If I use the statistics, I think it was in 1990 that 17 percent of our official development assistance or foreign aid, which is not just only from the US but also from the donor countries, went to agriculture. Agriculture used to be thought of as a primary diver to help people get out of poverty. But, in 2005 the figure went down to four percent. It had fallen to a quarter of what it would have been. Why did that happen? I think there is an affirmative evidence that, the first green revolution struck through a lot of very hard working scientists that they understood the use of fertilizer in a way they never did before. They dramatically transformed the sector. They came up with big monoculture crops. They had developed breeds of wheat in Mexico. The first person to do so was Norman Borlaug and he won the Nobel Peace Prize though he was a plant expert. He managed to save billion people. Mexico went from being struggling to producing enough and have a surplus. So did Indonesia. So did India and China. There were dramatic transformations. What people miss was that the great revolution never got to Africa and it’s not fair to suggest that Africa did not bother. Africa has wide range of climatic, soil and crop varieties. Hence, the revolution never reached Africa. I think it’s also fair to say that leaders in the developing world were proud and want to be modern. They wanted to put agriculture behind and try some cool new things. They now realize that they had made a mistake. They might consider they had abandoned agriculture sooner than it was time. And that realization resulted in the Maputo Declaration. But, in 2007/08, all of a sudden, food prices jumped way up causing riots in Haiti and in some parts of Africa. I think the G8, the developed and the developing countries all at once said. How did we let this happen? That was a real awakening situation. We needed all together to invest in agriculture and food security. When President Bush was in power, AIDS was the shocking fact on the ground in Africa and he responded by proposing PEPFAR and when President Obama arrived in office, the shocking fact on the ground was food riots and food prices hike. People working in the White House pushed at the G8 in Italy in 2009 this agenda. I would say we can’t blow up twice. We moved on from agriculture once and we can’t do it again. We have to get it right this time. I honestly believe us livening the sector in a time where it should be would be a renaissance for agriculture. We know important things we did not knew before. Innovation is one, which does not necessarily mean giant and expensive technologies. We also frankly understand the role of the private sector; much better than we ever did. We have to find ways to bring private sector investments in a certain way. Private sector always brings in a cutting edge technology.
From your tour to Mozambique, what is the general overview of your findings both from the government perspective and the agencies working on the ground?
I would say I am going to tell to the heads of the three Rome based agencies that they should be proud that their teams are working together. I know that may sound funny but it’s not always the case. I was impressed by that. I would say to all my fellow government leaders that we need to create policies and coordinate them. I am really impressed by the farmers and their potentials. The need for those responsible for policy to thinking through the policy linkages so that it will benefit small-holder farmers is growing.
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