Five years into implementing the process of local planning, local units are still struggling to deliver agriculture services in an effective manner.
--BY PRASHANTA RAUT
Now that the final results of the 2022 local body elections have come, all 753 local units of the government have got the office-bearers who will be in office for the next five years. It is only the second time, after the promulgation of the Nepalese Constitution in 2072, that people got the opportunity to choose their local leaders. While all political parties and their candidates promise good governance and prosperity as their agenda before the election, it is rarely reflected in their activities once they are in government. In a country where two-thirds of the population relies on agriculture for their livelihood, politicians, of course, would not miss the opportunity to push advancement in agriculture as one of their agendas to attract voters. This time as well, almost all the parties have prioritised agriculture development as a primary agenda in their election manifesto, but we are yet to see how these representatives will push these agendas forward in the coming days to meet our aspirations for development and change in the agriculture sector.
As provisioned by the Constitution of Nepal, 2015, agriculture development at the local level falls under the direct jurisdiction of the local government. This includes formulating policies, legal standards, planning, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation of projects and programs related to agriculture and animal husbandry. Local Government Operation Act, 2017 has also devolved the responsibility to deliver agriculture services to the local units. This huge decentralisation effort, however, has not brought any substantial change in the advancement of the agriculture sector, nor in the lives of farmers and peasants, so far. Local governments have failed to perform successfully in the first five years, due to a lack of prior experience in planning, policy formulation, and implementation of development programs. Five years into implementing the process of local planning, local units are still struggling to deliver agriculture services effectively. Projects are being executed haphazardly without proper planning and monitoring. The majority of the local government units do not still have any strategic plan for agriculture development. Municipalities have not been able to implement any long-term programme for the benefit of local farmers due to a lack of qualified technical staffers, resources, and networks. In a situation like this, the agriculture sector continues to be left out in budget allocation each year. So, every newly elected local government must understand the need for strategic planning in agriculture in the coming days to succeed in its development goal.
Here in this article, I present my perspective on how local governments need to work, to prepare a robust Municipal Agriculture Plan that does not only address the needs of farmers but also helps to drive the society towards prosperity through inclusive economic development.
Every planning process starts with ‘understanding the needs, as the first step. Unfortunately, a majority of the policymakers in Nepal understand agriculture sector reform as a simple process of imitating international reform trends and developing similar reform features. The tendency often termed ‘isomorphy’ in social science, is the biggest challenge in the policy formulation process at local levels. As long as policymakers find it convenient to use the template of reforms that have worked in some other location, the solutions to local problems, real issues, and problems at the grassroots are never identified. It takes conscious effort from the bureaucratic personnel, executives of the local units, staffers and technicians of the relevant department, and all stakeholders to go through the elaborate steps and processes of need analysis to identify the needs. Staffers and technicians of the Agriculture Section of the Municipality can take charge of this task under the existing bureaucratic structure.
There are several participatory methods of rural appraisals that can be utilised effectively to understand the needs of communities. Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) has been practised by development practitioners for a long, while listening surveys, leaky buckets, systems analysis, etc. are some other emerging tools that can be equally helpful in the need analysis process. No matter what tools we use, the basic idea behind need identification is to engage with the community, especially the farmers, farmers’ groups, and cooperatives; and make them participate in the analysis process itself, to make sure that the needs are genuine; not hypothetical. To this end, a need analysis should assess the existing local resources in agriculture; including human, genetic, natural, social, and infrastructural. It should also help to understand the inter-relation between these resources and the dynamics within. The assessment may include activities like: the preparation of an inventory of species and varieties of crops, vegetables, trees, animals, etc; preparation of crop calendar and food supply patterns; preparation of mobility maps; resource mapping; social mapping, etc.
A need analysis when performed genuinely should give us the answer to the basic question, “Where are we?”. When we have an answer to this basic question, the next step is to explore, “Where do we want to be at a certain point in time in the future?”. Shared visioning is a common tool used to find an answer to this question. This is where the role of political leaders, local representatives, and civic society becomes important. Plans and policies can be formulated best when an institution has a visionary leader. Successful leaders have the ability to look through existing challenges and constraints and build on the opportunities. They see possibilities of the future and can distinguish between what is feasible and what is impractical. When leaders envisage too ideal and impractical goals, it breeds false hopes among communities, which is detrimental to the prosperity of a society. However, it is also important to keep the goals high enough to meet the aspirations of society. Visioning is therefore an exercise that helps leaders to set goals while considering the thin line between dreams and aspirations.
In strategic planning, when we have answers to those two questions, the next step is to develop assumptions or premises. No plans can be developed without setting assumptions or premises. In this step, the policymakers develop a theoretical background or an approach that justifies planned interventions and at the same time identifies the risks and uncertainties. Since a majority of the municipalities, especially rural municipalities, lack the human resource and expertise for strategic planning in agriculture at present, municipalities may seek consulting support from agriculture experts from this stage of planning.
Agriculture experts can assist the institution to research on different ways to achieve the objectives. In formulating policies, local governments in the past seem to have followed a linear process from identifying problems to finding solutions. Ideally, an agriculture expert will have to step-in in this process to identify various available alternatives to meet the expected goals and also facilitate finding the right alternative that is feasible, acceptable, and necessary. With support from the agriculture expert, municipalities will also be able to design various interventions and develop a plan of action depending on the availability of funds and budgets. Sometimes, a supporting plan will be needed to complement the plan of action to mitigate the negative impacts of the identified risks.
Preparing the plan of action is one of the most important steps in the process of strategic planning in agriculture. This is the step where experts need to facilitate the process of consensus-building among local representatives, municipality executives, political parties, department staffers, community organisations; national, regional, and local stakeholders; leader farmers, farmer groups, agriculture cooperatives, market actors, producers’ and traders’ association, etc and design activities planned to be delivered in a specific period. In this step, it is also necessary that the designed activities cover all aspects of agriculture and commodity value chains including the production front, service provisions, markets, technology, input supply, infrastructures, post-harvest, processing, financial services, trading, transportation, etc.
A complete plan of action must indicate the roles of all stakeholders and should explain how it plans to secure resources and funding for implementing the plan of action. Under the existing bureaucratic structure of the local units, the services provided by the Agriculture Section of the municipalities are limited to some basic technical and administrative support to farmers, farmer groups, and cooperatives. However, as mandated by the Local Government Operation Act, local governments must act urgently to increase the scope of these services.
Given the geographical, agro-ecological, climatic, and socio-cultural diversity of the country, strategic planning can take one of the many different courses or approaches in agriculture, for instance; commercial, market-oriented, climate-smart, agroecological, organic, etc. It depends on the needs of the society, the vision of policymakers, the realities of the location, available resources, etc. However, while making municipal agriculture plans, it is also worth considering some global agendas, for example; the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations; international treaties that the country is a party to; national indicators such as food and agricultural trade deficit, etc. Local agriculture strategies should also align with the national policies like Agriculture Development Strategy (2015-2035) and The Fifteenth Plan (2019/20 – 2023/24) and should also be in line with the periodic plans of the municipality itself. Partnership with provincial stakeholders like Agriculture Knowledge Centres (AKC); government research institutions like Nepal Agriculture Research Council (NARC) and its various Regional Agriculture Research Stations (RARS); agriculture projects of the federal government like Prime Minister Agriculture Modernization Project (PMAMP) etc also need to be explored for promoting broader cooperation among stakeholders. Last but not the least, exploring the possibilities to coordinate with various national and international Non-Governmental Organisations (I/NGOs) working in the sector of agriculture will also have to be considered to prepare a robust Municipal Agriculture Plan, that will guide the local policymakers in their effort to drive their municipalities towards prosperity, as they promised in their election manifesto.
Mr. Raut is an Agroecologist with a Master’s degree in Agroecology from Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU), currently working as Agroecology Coordinator at Grassroots Consulting/Fastenaktion. He can be reached at [email protected] for comments.