Activists from the continent early this month paid a courtesy call at the State House in Dar es Salaam to meet President Jakaya Kikwete to deliver the same message – ‘’please increase the budget for agriculture to 10 per cent’’. They also want the Tanzanian president to deliver the same message to other African Head of States.
“The campaign is a wake-up call to all African governments to deliver better services for its people. I will faithfully and dutifully deliver the message to the intended destination,” President Kikwete said. Assuring government commitments, he said budgetary allocation for agriculture has been increased to 926bn/- in 2011 from only 233bn/- in 2005, which is about 7 per cent of the total budget.
“We now commit ourselves to hike it to 10 per cent by 2013 as agreed in 2003 at the Maputo Declaration on Agriculture,” he added. The same week another meeting organised by FANRPAN, a network for policy analysis on food, agriculture and natural resources, was being held in Dar es Salaam with Maputo Declaration appearing several times.
The question people should ask themselves is, is 10 percent the solution to agricultural sector growth? Is the declaration really practical or a mere political statement? This commitment is somewhat misleading because it puts too much emphasis on the input (10 per cent) than the output, which is six percent growth.
If too much attention is directed to allocating that amount to agriculture it may erode the possibility of using scarce resources in a more optimal way. Countries should focus more on achieving six per cent growth with available resources that putting too much attention to increasing the budget.
This is because a country may allocate 10 per cent but may not achieve the said growth. But another country may allocate less percentage, say five percent, but still achieve the six percent growth. It is down to how countries will spend the money that will make the difference and not how the money is increased.
Money will never be enough for some countries because of either failure to put in place better mechanism, policies and strategies to boost the sector. Or because of dynamics related to challenges in the sector such as climate changes. There is also a question of mismanagement of funds. Experience show that a big chunk of money in Agriculture goes to seminars and workshops while others goes to researches. But even under researches a lot is spent on seminars.
The more you pump money into agriculture the more officials design new projects to use the money regardless of whether the projects will benefit the society. Actually the mentality should be to involve more private sectors in agriculture investments so that the government can reduce the budget and concentrate on policies matters.
Private sector will invest in fertilizer factories, equipment, seeds, large farming projects that can feed the whole country and surplus for export. They can also fund research and development in the sector as we have witnessed in Tanzania for many years. In Tanzania most of cash crop plantations are owned by private sector players who produce and market the crops by themselves. They only need good policies from government not money.
In recent years Tanzania has spend a lot of money in voucher system subsidy system in inputs and marketing of crops to help poor farmers in rural fetch better prices. Subsidy is perhaps the one of the area government funds are used one can see its impact direct to the grassroots.
How much funds are needed by the government to facilitate its activities is not a clear-cut figure but a good mix of variables.
From government point of view one may argue that already they are spending a lot in improving rural infrastructures, which is critical for agricultural development.
Tanzania for instance spends more than six percent of the budget on infrastructure whereby a big amount of money goes to construction of rural roads. It makes sense because better rural infrastructures will facilitate marketing of agricultural produces. It will be useless to produce a lot of crops then fail to move it because of poor roads.
Therefore, if you take the amount of money spent on rural infrastructure, those allocated to other sector related to agriculture such as industry and trade it could be fair to say the percentage is more than 10 per cent. That is without including money that comes from donors but not necessarily part of the budget.
Banks can also play a bigger role in financing young entrepreneurs to invest in agriculture and provide jobs to their brothers and sisters in the villages. The discoveries of oil, gas and minerals in the continent surly poses great danger to agriculture as both the government and investors shift their interest. But ignoring agriculture will be the biggest mistake since it employs more than 75 per cent of rural population.