A sustainable solution to the dwindling fortunes of agriculture will require a comprehensive national strategy that will outlive political parties in government, Dr. Jerry Kombat Monfant, an economic strategist and President of MBIC Group of Accountants and Business Advisors, has said.
“I am of the view that we must have a clear strategy for our agriculture sector. We must be clear in our minds which areas we are vying to be leaders in?” he said, calling for a dynamic shift from theory to more practical policies.
The agriculture sector’s contribution to GDP dropped from 18.9 percent in 2016 to 18.3 percent in 2017, which followed a string of poor performances from a high of 31.8 percent in 2009.
To reverse the trend, Dr. Jerry Kombat Monfant said a clear strategy was necessary, with a focus on areas the country has competitive advantage in.
“The thing about strategy is that it is interwoven; they run on each other. So, if you plan to develop the agriculture industry and you are saying Planting for Food and Jobs, and the people cannot even plant all year round, sometimes it makes the policy a bit more theoretical, instead of being practical,” he observed.
To promote a sustainable agriculture that can contribute meaningfully to reducing the country’s over US$2.2 billion food import bill and the rising unemployment rate, Dr. Monfant said it was high time the country found a merging point between capitalism and socialism.
“We rely so much on the capitalist economic system rather than combining it with socialism, which most of the developed countries have used.
We are a country where the ruling government believes in capitalism and the main opposition also believes in socialism and if you don’t have a merging point, you are going to have a problem at a certain point. So, there is the need for a convergence between capitalism and socialism and it should not be limited to simple social basic interventions alone,” he stated.
Explaining further, he said the government could decide to establish big farms in every region or district and make sure it is commercialised.
He added that students on vacation could take temporary job appointments at these farms so as to be able to gain money and valuable insight into how modern farming is done. This, he noted, could encourage more graduates to take to farming after school.
Although he described the government’s Planting for food and Jobs and the One Village, One Dam initiatives as being “laudable,” he explained that a blanket approach to their implementation could pre-necessitate their failure.
“My problem with the ‘One Village, One Dam’ is that it should have been coined based on the amount of acreage of land or farming area that could be covered by a dam rather than a village and a dam; if not, we could be wasting resources,” he said.
To pursue a policy of this nature, he said: “you should have a very comprehensive strategy, a very practical one to enable you get to the final end of it.
If you are planting on subsistence basis, there is no way it will be able to create enough jobs as you think. If we were to commercialise, it would have the capacity to take a lot of numbers.”
Going forward, he concluded that: “If we really want to produce food and create jobs, then it means that we have to look at the market structure. We should ask ourselves this question: if this food is produced, where and who is going to consume it?”