The Participants in a Process of Developing a Strategy

The making of a successful agricultural strategy requires (i) technical expertise on the relevant issues, (ii) intimate knowledge of a country's agriculture, and (iii) political leadership for a process of change. The first requirement can be supplied by national and/or international experts, preferably in collaboration with representatives of farmers or rural communities. The second is provided by those representatives, and the third is usually supplied by the country's political leaders, although spokespersons for producers' groups can play leadership roles as well. In the Dominican Republic, for example, an influential producers' group, the Junta Agroempresarial Dominicana (JAD), has traditionally played all three of these roles in work on sectoral strategies.

In brief, the participation of representatives of farmers - or, more broadly speaking, of civil society - is important both for helping give a strategy the most productive orientations and for facilitating its implementation. Civil society can participate in two ways: by being a full partner in the effort of researching and drafting the strategy, or by being consulted during the process. The former is likely to produce a better strategy, but it requires a greater investment in organization and co-ordination of the undertaking, and there is a risk that in the end a consensus will not be attained. Once a commitment to involve rural society in the process is made, it is important to ensure that those who participate are sufficiently representative of a broad spectrum of that society. This includes women, the poor, and other traditionally disadvantaged groups. Exclusion of key groups can weaken the document and lead to controversy over its content after it is issued, which undermines its prospects for being implemented.

Participants do not necessarily have to be formal representatives of associations or other recognized entities. Sometimes, those who are in such positions feel obliged to defend entrenched positions. Depending on the circumstances, it may be possible to advance more rapidly in developing new and creative proposals jointly if the participants in the process are selected on the basis of their recognized status as thoughtful individuals who take a broad view of issues, rather than on the basis of formal organizational affiliations.

As noted, involving persons from outside official circles in a process of formulating a strategy can help strengthen civil society in countries where its voice has been weak in the national policy dialog. However, trying to involve political parties formally in the process may weaken the chances of reaching a consensus, since parties by definition have a vested interest in disagreeing with each other, i.e. in defining their respective platforms. In most cases, the process is more likely to lead to a consensus if the participants include a range of individuals whose own party affiliations span the political spectrum but who are not officials in party hierarchies.7 In the Honduran case, the implicit representation of all political parties in the dialog helped ensure that the reform program was sustained when elections subse

6. As used hereafter in this chapter, civil society includes the private sector (business sector), as well as NGOs, universities, citizens' associations and other groupings.

7. In an agricultural strategy exercise in the Dominican Republic, the UNDP commissioned chapters on various policy topics by national experts and then convened a national workshop in late 1994 to review them and quently led to a change of the party in power. However, in Mozambique, it was decided to involve representatives of political parties in a visioning exercise, in view of the need to further the process of healing the wounds of a devastating civil war, and that experience was successful.

Sometimes, technical experts - including those from international agencies - are concerned that the participation of persons who do not have an extensive technical background will slow down the process and perhaps dilute the soundness of the recommendations. An answer to the first concern is that if the result is better, then it will have been worth the additional investment of time. An answer to the second concern is that it is incumbent on technical experts who feel they have better insights and policy prescriptions to explain them in accessible terms - and to demonstrate sufficient flexibility to accept suggestions for improvements when they come from nontechnical sources and are not always expressed in technical language.8 In any case, in virtually all developing countries, civil society will be able to contribute persons with strong technical qualifications in economics and other fields.

The risk of not reaching a consensus among members of civil society is a legitimate concern. However, if schisms exist in society on basic policy issues, the work on a strategy is as good a forum as any for trying to bridge them. It is relatively non-political and the presence of a wide range of participants including, usually, international advisors, effectively puts pressure on all participants to present constructive positions and to listen to new ideas. In the end, if agreements cannot be reached in some areas, an option is to present minority positions in a final report.

In the context of an agricultural strategy, experience has shown that major agro-industrial interests are likely to be diametrically opposed to farmers on issues such as import tariffs and product prices. Processors of grains and oilseeds usually favor low or zero tariffs on their raw materials, to the detriment of the country's farmers who produce those classes of goods or close substitutes for them. (The practice of waiving tariffs on donated food or concessional food aid exacerbates the problem.) For this reason, sometimes participation in an agricultural strategy is limited to representatives of primary producers, without involving the processing industries. The cost of doing this, of course, is a smaller domain of consensus on the resulting proposals, and perhaps lost opportunities to promote collaboration between farmers and processors on topics such as quality standards and the option of processors contracting with farmers for the supply of their raw materials. The decision would have to be made independently in each case, but this particular issue deserves consideration in advance of the launching of a participatory process for the agricultural sector.9

develop modifications. Participants in the workshop included representatives of national farmers' organizations, agro-industry, NGOs, government and the political parties. The discussions were animated and productive and the results were useful, but the goal of achieving a policy consensus including the political parties was not attained.

8. Getting experts to play this role is not always easy. As noted in one of the World Bank's assessment of participation efforts in its own programs, 'Participation efforts run counter to the Bank's "expert" culture' (M. Aycrigg, 1998, p. 27).

9. An interesting approach to participation was developed in El Salvador where, through the leadership of Mercedes Llort and with the support of the Inter-American Development Bank, the Agricultural and Agroindustrial Chamber of El Salvador convened four national forums on strategic issues in agricultural development and also commissioned technical studies on topics identified as priorities. National and international experts were invited to speak at the forums and the audience included a large number of representatives of farmers, agro-industries, government and international agencies. Then, a strategy document was drafted on the basis of the findings in the forums and the technical studies. It was issued as Cámara Agropecuaria y Agroindustrial de El Salvador (CAMAGRO), Estrategia concertada de desarrollo agropecuario, Convenio CAMAGRO/BID No. ATN/SF-5509-ES, Diálogo nacional sobre estrategias de desarrollo agropecuario, San Salvador, El Salvador, September 1998.

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