Benefits of consolidating government programs and development initiatives
The benefits of collaborating and building partnerships to solve shared problems like climate change seem very obvious. Mounting evidence indicates that dividing issues into themes often breaks natural synergies, for instance, between agriculture, environment, energy, mobility and other issues that should be approached holistically. However, the fact that many development organizations and government departments still prefer isolated interventions implies the value of collaboration needs continuous explanation and unpacking.
Fragmentation is the biggest obstacles to collaboration and sustainable development
Evidence is beginning to show the extent to which borders between government departments and fragmented interventions by development agencies are huge obstacles to sustainable development. For instance, where African governments tend to divide departments into agriculture, industry, ICTs, tourism, transport, finance, women affairs and many others, the result is departments and ministries working in silos. Yet the real world does not function that way. In fact, departments or ministries are just ideas or frameworks not cast in stone. Given that there is nothing immovable about boundaries between government ministries and themes by development organizations, the borders can be easily made permeable or redrawn to embrace issues that matter across the board and create a single investment rather than fragmented initiatives.
On the other hand, consortia by development organizations have had mixed results with some progress hampered by different organizational cultures, among other challenges. If all these obstacles did not exist, billions of dollars invested in Africa over the past decades could have changed lives and achieved sustainable development. Following huge investments in the form of infrastructure like dams and irrigation systems, most development organizations do not think about the sustainability model from a developmental aspect. For instance, how to balance investment and development in a rural community. How rural communities utilize resources is more important than just investing in infrastructure like dams and market structures with no idea how local communities will use those investments to improve their lives after the intervention.
In most cases, strategies by development organizations lack a step-by-step process of empowering communities and key stakeholders like government departments that were used to work in certain ways but will now be expected to use investments that have been done in their community. For agriculture and livelihood interventions, this includes transforming traditional rigid irrigation farming systems like plot holding, individualism and thin crop production system not informed by the market. More important is investing in the capacity of farmers to build networks with the market as well as mind set change so that communities realize that what they are doing is for themselves and their local development. Communities should also be capacitated to connect their local market with other distant markets. In a competitive environment, communities have to learn to swim with sharks, compete with middlemen and convince contractors to work with them.
Where key stakeholders like government departments and community-based organizations work closely together with farming communities in developing local food systems and markets, they can find answers to questions around resourcing the market. For instance, how do we find a financier willing to take the local market as collateral by putting inputs with a vision of long-term benefits? How do we transition from an incentive-based extension system where the relationship between development agencies and government extension services is based on extension officers receiving allowances from development organizations? How do we build the capacity of government extension services to see the market as adding value to their work and national development?
Keeping farmers and markets informed
Stakeholders working collaboratively can ensure data informs farming activities and the market through strong links. That is how the local market becomes a hub for consolidating data and informing other markets in terms of types of commodities and quantities available for sale. Development can only happen when there is information and that means extension services have to embrace the market as part of their work. Fragmented initiatives where government is doing its own things with no links to the market and other development organizations are also doing their separate initiatives in the same community or districts should be consolidated. The current situation where government and development organization build dams and irrigation systems without talking to the market should be a thing of the past in a changing climate where synergies matter more. If government stakeholders and development organizations are not business minded enough to drive a business-oriented and fluid institution like the mass market, they should find appropriate partners unlike assuming that a formal processing company is the only market for all commodities.
Consolidating the relationship between government departments
At national level, a consolidation framework can inform the relationship between government departments. For instance, what is the relationship between government ministries? If that relationship does not exist, siloed initiatives and haphazard development are the main result. The ministry of health will run with clinics and hospitals without thinking about power and roads which fall under different ministries yet it is impossible to establish a good clinic with no access to road and power. This also has implications on budgetary issues. How does the ministry of agriculture budget speak to the ministry of health budget which has some components of promoting nutrition and health whose sources are in the ministry of agriculture?
Consolidating government initiatives will also enhance effective utilization of resources for purposes of getting results from networked and synergized initiatives. For instance, how does the whole economy utilize investment in roads and water? How does a rural farming community and the mass market benefit from investment in road highways and airports? The benefits may be there but what systems are in place to ensure other development components benefit from national initiatives? How does a farmer in a community with bad roads benefit from the highway when local roads are so bad that they reduce the quality of commodities produced in the community? Unless these questions are answered, benefits of highway road networks become exclusive to a few close to the roads or some other unintended beneficiaries like middlemen.
The value of consolidation can also be revealed through re-purposing resources. In the absence of smart consolidation, prime agriculture land can be mistakenly re-purposed for residential houses like what is happening in most African countries. What is the opportunity cost of establishing residential houses on prime land ideal for food production? The benefits can be seen from a historical perspective in 20—50 years, for instance, with regard to land that will have been put under potatoes. Assuming a hectare was producing 50 tons of potatoes per cycle within two cycles per year, that comes to 100 tons/year = 100 000kg x 50 = 5 million kgs of potatoes divided by 15kg= 330 000 of 15 kg pockets x $10/pocket = $3.3 million from a single hectare. That means 100ha would generate $300 million. When compared to the value of accommodation rentals on the same land, such analyses can show the extent to which food production can be more beneficial than establishing houses. Beyond monetary benefits, food production addresses several opportunity costs like nutrition, health, clean water and a good environment which can be undermined if land is re-purposed for housing. The market can be an ideal platform for consolidating, utilizing and re-purposing natural resources because it can inform the best use of land in terms of returns.
How consolidation helps the African continent
African countries should develop powerful centers of consolidation in order to stem exploitation of their natural resources by China and the West. That will enable them to position external investors in ways that benefit local economies. For instance, if China is good with infrastructure, it should just focus on roads and dams while Japan comes in with technology which is it good at. Other investors should only be entertained based on their strengths and value propositions in line with gaps that African countries want filled. That will prevent the current haphazard extractive investment scenario. A continental consolidation framework should be built at African Union level while at country level, such a framework can consolidate all development initiatives.
Who should be responsible for putting in place a consolidation framework?
Consolidation can be done better by a technical think comprising people who bring evidence from diverse sources to build models that synergize agriculture, health, tourism and map the entire synergy of government systems. This will address double-dipping and duplication of duties between government ministries and development organizations. For each country, a consolidated framework can guide local and external investments toward building a national investment guide unlike having each ministry setting up its own investment office – tourism guide, mining guide and many other disjointed blueprints that should be speaking to each other as a single synergized investment guide.
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