During the 7th National Dialogue, the Minister of Agriculture Dr Agnes Kalibata was put on the spot light over the “One Cow per household” program. It was unearthed that many of the cows were given to undeserving beneficiaries.
The New Times Senior Reporter Edmund Kagire caught up with Dr.Kalibata to discuss what went wrong and other outstanding issues that fall under her ministry.
Below are the excerpts.
MINAGRI was put on the spot during the Dialogue. Do you really think the Ministry is doing enough and what do you think should be done differently?
Let us look at it in this perspective, yes indeed, MINAGRI was on spot but if you ask me, I would say the dialogue went really very well. Many questions were asked and I must say some of the questions were not convincingly answered but all in all, two things came out. One which is that we need to be accountable and we have to know that we have to be accountable to the public.
And I guess that is why we have the National Dialogue. We, as individuals who have public offices and are given public resources so that we can use them in a manner that benefits the public, are able to communicate to the public what we have been able to do, what we have not been able to do and why not.
Meaning that when we are talking about accountability, it is not just about resources and its usage it is also about delivering outcomes on time.
So in this case, on the issue of terraces for instance the issue was whether we delivered on time. The issue was not whether resources were misappropriated or taken else where.
No, none of those happened. What happened is, we were supposed to have ended erosion control by the end of 2009 and we did not beat that deadline but we are saying we will do the remaining work by the end of next season.
Why didn’t you beat the deadline?
There are a lot of reasons. As highlighted in the Dialogue there were a number of weak linkages here and there. We are all delivering as a chain and you can only be as strong as your weakest link.
The delivery system is such that we send resources down to the districts and districts implement these programmes. Now, if districts have problems at any single stage, in terms of being able to procure and use resources on time, having resource management issues programme output will be affected.
You mean capacity constrains are existent at local levels?
Yes. Capacity constrains in different forms. Some districts did not fully utilise the financial resources that were allotted. In some districts they didn’t have financial resources which is another constrain. On the side of the Agriculture Ministry I can point out cases of constrains in terms of monitoring and evaluation.
During the Dialogue it seems as if there was a disconnect between Local and Central Government over some of the issues raised. For instance, some Mayors could not explain the trend of things and it looked like the MINAGRI also failed to police the implementation of programmes.
That is why I said that you are only as strong as your weakest link. The first weak linkage is the implementation level at the district. The second weakest link was the monitoring at the MINAGRI level. Meaning that we should have placed time frames on monitoring of outputs.
So when do you hope to finish the work this time round?
May 2010 it will be over.
There will be terraces countrywide?
Not just terraces, all erosion control activities will be complete.
On the issue of TIG, how come there are many “Tigists” out there who are not put to use, what is the role of MINAGRI in this?
For us what we agreed, we worked out a principle, the principle being that the resources we provide can be used on TIG. We don’t directly contract TIG, we give money to districts and districts have the flexibility to contract TIG.
Meaning that real constrains seem to emanate from the districts?
Basically districts have been allotted all the inputs. They have TIG, and they have the money. For us really it was to ensure that the funds are available but now it is clear that MINAGRI has to go down there and help them.
However we can’t say that districts didn’t do their work. We also must ensure that we are equally responsible in terms of helping them.
The districts are implementing agents and ministries are there to help them. If you want things to go well, you have to constantly keep checking on them. Our role is to play the monitoring and evaluation role. The monitoring role did not go well as it should have gone.
Lets talk about the season and food security situation.
Overall the season is going quite well despite constrains here and there. For instance, there is a problem in parts of the Southern Provinces in which it is not raining as expected.
It is difficult to say about the outcomes at this juncture as we are not yet into harvest. Information hasn’t started coming in, in terms of crop assessment but in terms of food prices, we are seeing a decrease in food prices on the market and usually that happens when there is an increase in food production.
How is the Crop Intensification Programme going?
Quite well. We have recorded an increase in the area covered. Giving an example, last year in the same season we did about 35,000 hectares, today we are doing about 77,000 hectares, only for maize, I am not talking about other crops. What is happening is that different districts are catching up with the programme.
Lets turn over to the land consolidation programme in which it seems that in the beginning people really never bought into the idea of merging their pieces of land. How is it today?
Initial resistance to a new idea is okay. That is natural. And on that they had real fears, real concerns which I would also be concerned with if I was an ordinary citizen out there.
There concerns were; what is my right to my land? What does this mean? If I consolidate the land what rights do I retain? In a place where we don’t have land titles and even if you have it, you are not educated to the use and the value of that land title. As a local person you still have worries.
The moment we went out and started educating them about the benefits of the new scheme things have started getting brighter.
So what is the outcome across the board?
At the farm level, farmers have been able to access fertilisers. I mean, picture going to give each small individual farmer fertilisers or seeds all over the country, it wouldn’t be easy.
But when you get them in a group, you tell them what to do, you work with them, you work on one huge field as one unit. Everybody goes to the field and you work together, basically the benefits are huge.
Going back to the National Dialogue, a lot was said about the One Cow per Poor Family Programme locally know as Girinka, what is the role of MINAGRI in this?
As a Ministry we do have a role because we develop the policy and get the resources from government. What the President was basically asking us is to be more accountable. Meaning that whatever happens we are responsible.
It looks like Girinka is riddled with a lot of irregularities?
Well, I should say that yes, it is a programme implemented by several administrative components. There is RARDA under our ministry that determines which cows are bought and sent down.
There was a problem there. Next issue is at the local level whereby those held responsible for selecting people, they ended up selecting the wrong beneficiaries at some point.
While RARDA cannot check every person that gets a cow, they could have had a mechanism in place that would help them spot those irregularities like the Ombudsman did.
I think the shortcomings emanated from the fact that RARDA went so much into buying cows more than going into finding out whether the right beneficiaries were actually selected, which they also didn’t do very well. That is what the government was asking us about.
So what is the way forward?
We have to correct the situation. The cows were bought, definitely there was no resource misappropriation. How do you ensure that the programme meets its goals in terms of ensuring that the cows go to the right people? That is what we are doing.
It is unfortunate that the leaders who are responsible of selecting people are the ones who ended up selecting themselves and their relatives.
In this we have to set things right. We have to show people that being a leader is not a privilege but a service.
Getting back the cows and giving them back to the people who deserve them is not enough, what other deterrence measures have to be put in place to ensure that such people who continue to subject hundreds to poverty don’t get away with it?
You are indeed right, there should be some other form of punishment for abusers. Last week I had a meeting with the leaders of the Eastern Province and I was asking them, is any of you involved in this?
What would happen if I find out that any of you is part of this? They said that offenders should probably be jailed and they should lose their jobs.
Stakeholders have to come up with deterrent measures. We will also talk to communities and find out how they want this to be done.
Do you think you still owe the public some explanations on some of the things that were left hanging at the Dialogue?
Like the issue of plant infections like in passion fruits…
That can not be called owing an explanation to the public. You owe an explanation when you had every means possible to do something and you did not do it.
There some things that you can not fix or that require time to fix.
Well, the explanation here is, the Maracuja disease is a disease that has no cure or pest control but we can only provide information to farmers on how to control and deal with the diseases.
That we did, as the solution to the problem is being sought. I can also tell you that we keep doing research.
For example there is a Maracuja breed we know that is resistant to that disease but the quality is not the best.