Commentary: Good policies, poor implementers

Projects and policies majorly fail because they are poorly thought out or implementers fail them.

Projects and policies majorly fail because they are poorly thought out or implementers fail them.

The good people and government of Norway designed and funded the Lake Turkana fish processing plant in 1971, with the objective of providing jobs, nutrition and incomes to Turkana nomads through fishing and fish processing for export.

The cattle keeping Turkana do not fish and their culture frowned at eating fish. The $22 million processing plant was commissioned, operated for a couple of days and then was shut down because it was costly to operate the freezers in the factory and get clean water in the arid region.

It remains a reminder of how costly projects and policies not thought through can be.

Colonial France in 1932 in a rare show of commitment to its colonial Africa decided to grow cotton and rice and develop hydropower by irrigating 2.47 million acres in the Malian desert of course to feed their textile industry. 

Over 30,000 people were forced to move to the desert to work on the project. Malians ignored the coloniser’s attempts to change their age-tested agricultural practices.

Only 6 percent of the region was developed and the infrastructure in a state of decay by 1982 with more than $300 million committed over the more than fifty years.

Two weeks ago a form five pupil from one primary school in Kacyiru went home and wanted help with his home work.

The problem was that he did not have the full “assignment”, the Teacher had told the pupils to go to another school where he teaches and copy the questions on the blackboard and as fate would have it, someone had rubbed off part of the questions.

The Teacher either out of sheer laziness or lack of professionalism sent his young pupils to walk to a different school and copy the questions but parents instead blamed the issue on the Nine Year Basic Education program for poor teaching.

“The Teacher teaches in many schools and he gets tired,” one of them retorted.  Have implementers of the program made effort to explain it to the people of Rwanda and is there follow-up to ensure it is not abused?

Are there school inspectors and do they do their work? Do they monitor what is taught and how it is taught? Is there a monitoring mechanism to ensure the program is implemented according to plan? 

Many nasty practices are attributed to the program; there is need to follow up on its implementation to ensure its success. 

The government started the “land consolidation” program with a view to helping farmers to grow crops that are favourable in a particular area, increase production and productivity through access to agricultural extension services and benefit from economies of scale in marketing and inputs acquisition.

Research was conducted on which locality favoured which crop and farmers were advised to sow certain crops that grew well in their localities.

Unfortunately many implementers did not take time to explain to the farmers what the program was all about. They simply said the, “the government has said that you plant maize….”, for example. 

The implementers of the program told people to plant the recommended crop and in many localities farmers were told to uproot the existing crops and plant new ones. 

In parts of the Northern Province, farmers who did not move fast, had their banana plantains cut by people hired for the job and were told to plant the recommended crop. The implementers simply told the farmers that it was the government’s policy!

Farmers whose livelihood depended on their crops could not understand why the government wanted them to starve by cutting their food crops.

Subsistence farmers in Rwanda in parts of Africa grow different crops for different reasons; cash crops like tea and coffee for money that sustains the family and food crops to feed the family.

Vegetables and legumes which grow in a short term serve the family during the long periods, tubers and stored food from the previous season are scarce for example after 40 days after planting, leaves of some legumes make a sauce.

Telling farmers to plant one crop, particularly if it is a cash crop like tea or pineapples, without alternative sources of subsistence and the banning of cultivation of other crops is bound to generate opposition from them.

Demonstrating to farmers the benefits of growing a particular crop on one half of their land acreage while using the second half for their subsistence would make them appreciate the program better.

When farmers “consolidate” their land, production is bound to increase and the forces of demand and supply will be at play that is to say that with more supply the prices will fall.

With a bumper harvest, produce buyers are likely to buy it a low price during the harvest period and store it or export it at higher prices.

The implementers need to put in place measures to cushion farmers from price fluctuation.  Marketing strategies, storage and value addition should be included in the program else when farmers sell their produce at prices that do not cover the cost of production the program may fail.

The New Times on Wednesday last week reported that the Agriculture Minister advised farmers to always be careful when selling harvests if they are to avoid being cheated. 

It was reported that the Ministry of Agriculture plans to build a maize store in Nyagatare district “to facilitate farmers’ storage needs”.

This is most welcome. The Minister was reported to have said, “We ask farmers not to sell maize below the price (Rwf 120 per kg) and the government has already accepted to buy for [sic] them”.

Policies and program initiators need to take into account the ideas of locals and continually monitor and evaluate their implementation lest they become abused and turn into channels of inefficiency or white elephants like the examples cited earlier.