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The Amazing Predictability of a Failed Regime- Dr. Ousman Gajigo

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Dr. Ousman Gajigo, Economist formerly with ADB

By Dr. Ousman Gajigo

It is often said that insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results. I believe that a similar characterization should be made for failed regimes. These are regimes that persists in undertaking the same activity year in and year out without any meaningful results and do not reflect onwhy delivery has been lacking. It is admittedly not as concise but I hope you get the point. In our Gambian context, there is noa clearer illustration of this phenomenon than the AdamaBarrow regime’s conduct in the agricultural sector.

Now that most of the country has already experienced their first rains of the year, it is safe to say that the rainy season has started. This means that the most important period for one of our most important sectors is about to start. To assess the Barrow regime’s performance in the sector, it is instructive to contrast itsknown performance against what a serious government would do in a similar situation.

I can guarantee you that what the Adama Barrow government would do in the upcoming agricultural season will be as ineffective as it is predictable. Let’s start with the traditional government support for agricultural inputs, which tends to focus on traditional crops and completely excludes horticulture. Over the next few months, the government will carry out some distribution of seeds (usually rice) and fertilizers (NPK and urea). My first prediction is that these seeds and fertilizer will not reach most farmers on time, thereby completely undercutting their effectiveness. The reason I know this with certainty is that seeds and fertilizers meant for this rainy season should have been fully distributed since last month. Even as of this late hour, there has been no discussion of the quantities of the inputsbought, not to mention their distribution rate. There will be no substantive discussion on the amount that the farmers in the country need, which should have been determined much earlier. 

The issue of timely distribution of agricultural inputs is particularly egregious.  What excuse could there be for thegovernment for this tardiness? It cannot be that anyone can claim to be surprised by the arrival of the rainy season since there is nothing more predictable than the timing of the seasons.Furthermore, there is no credible argument about global fertilizer shortage or supply bottleneck that could explain the delay. On top of this late arrival, one can predict that the logistics of this year’s distribution will be handled poorly. After all, we are all aware of the scandals surrounding the handling of fertilizer distribution intended for farmers. 

A government that is serious about agricultural development in general or specific crop productivity in any given year would make sure that the seeds and fertilizers are completely distributed latest by the beginning of May. This is because farmers need to have an idea about the type and quantity of available inputs before they start preparing the land for a given rainy season. After all, optimal decisions about which crops to grow and in which quantity should be a function of the quantity and quality of inputs such as fertilizer and seeds. 

Another thing one cannot fail to notice about the distribution of these agricultural inputs is that there has not been much thought about their appropriateness for the crops that farmers actually grow. All the fertilizers that the government distributes areusually of just one kind of NPK plus urea. No effort has been put into differentiating fertilizer by the type of crop grown. It goes without say that not all NPK types are equally appropriate for growing groundnuts, millet and rice.  

Another important omission to note about the distribution ofagricultural inputs is the absence of activities to educate farmers on how to apply them appropriately. This is particularly important for fertilizers. The fact of the matter is that the proper application of fertilizer in terms of timing and quantity are highly important to maximize crop yield. There are multipleways for the government to reach farmers with such usefulinformation. But one can predict with absolute certainty that this year, as in previous years, will not witness such an inexpensive but critical component of agricultural intervention.

It is about time that we realize that we cannot afford to simply repeat what we have always been doing in the past. A competent government would realize that the fact that we are in our current predicament means that the status quo is far from acceptable. That should be more than enough to tell anyone serious that standard government practices in not only agriculture but in other sectors in The Gambia require major changes.

Any government that is serious about achieving important goals will try to learn from experience. Learning from experience is important because it is one of the most reliable ways to improveand to avoid repeating mistakes. Agricultural activities and associated government interventions are annual events with predictable regularity, which means there is ample opportunities to learn from experience if the desire is there. When there is complete absence of discussions about previous experiences,particularly with regards to whether goals were met, it becomes obvious that there is no desire to learn from experience and to improve.

That is an alien concept for an unserious government such as the Adama Barrow regime. One does not see key government officials in the current regime reflecting on meeting their targetsin the previous year. In fact, the government has been completely silent about the productivity of agriculture in the previous year. There has not been any public discussion of rice output and its yields in various regions of the country or how those yields align with targets. Similar discussion about groundnut harvests or yields have also been completely absent. Nothing was said about livestock. Nothing on millet or maize or sorghum. In other words, nothing about performance that matters. While we are all aware that there was no general crop failure last season, it is important to emphasize that the absence of a harvest disaster is no indication of policy implementation success.

This deafening silence by the government on important aspects of the country’s agricultural performance comes on top of thegross negligence and ineptitude that was displayed in thepurchasing of groundnut harvest from farmers at the end of last season. Government officials had even publicly threatened to arrest farmers who did not sell their harvest to the government.We all expected that, with such pronouncements, the government would have been fully ready to buy farmers’ groundnut harvests completely and on time. And yet, when the time came to fulfill their promise, they failed to pay farmers on time. Indeed, some poor farmers had to wait for months to receive their payments. And yet, there was no apology from Adama Barrow himself or his inept minister on this debacle. To add insult to injury, officials falsely and shamelessly claimed to have paid farmers on time.

Another prediction one can make is that the government will not announce any performance targets in agriculture. There will beno target for rice or groundnut or millet or maize production. There will be no target for achieving a certain productivity levelfor any crop. This demonstrates that we have a government that does not care about delivering to a certain level of performance to which citizens can hold it accountable. Which means that within the government itself, there is no culture of policymakers holding officials accountable for delivering results. 

A serious government that is in a position to make a positive impact in agriculture would be courageous enough to set clear targets against which the public can hold it accountable. These same performance targets will form the basis for holding government officials in the field accountable. But the existence of such an accountability mechanism depends on the presence of serious leadership such that policymakers can set the appropriate conditions for agricultural officials to do their jobs.​

The reason why these ineffective activities are prevalent, recurrent and predictable is first and foremost caused by the poor quality of the leadership at the key position of the presidency and the ministerial levels. We have an inept leader, surrounded by incompetent ministers and sycophants acting as advisors. With such a leadership structure, it would be a miracle for any achievements to be realized in the agricultural sector. It is not that Adama Barrow, his ministers and advisors do not desire positive results in agriculture. I don’t believe that they would mind seeing positive results in agriculture, even if it is not their top priority. The problem is that their incompetence cannot allow them to conceive of meaningful national goals, strategize on viable plans, and assemble a competent team to execute the plans.

The competence of leaders is the key. As we think about the future, we must not allow ourselves to be swayed by how well individuals speak or how polished they look. Most of our current political class is full of people who are eloquent speakers and smooth operators but they lack the competence and the integrity to bring the needed change. Without integrity and competence, their discussion of issues lack substance. So, first and foremost, we need to focus on the competence and integrity of leaders. It is these attributes that lead to meaningful results. These are the attributes that are lacking in the leadership of the current administration.

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