Green Revolution: A Multi-pronged Approach
Reacting to Tsegaye’s original article, Yemane T. raised important issues such as pollution, declining soil quality, and human health costs and risks associated with excessive use of fertilizer, pesticides and other chemicals. And lately, Getachew Mequanent, one of the intellectual godfathers who provide consistent conceptual smoke screen for the ruling party, tried to remind us that, though not explicitly or officially declared, the government’s agricultural-led industrialization development strategy (ADLI) “has as a core objective the promotion of green revolution technologies.”
It is not so much Tsegaye and Yemane that spurred me to put my computer ink and paper together; I share most of their legitimate ideas and insights, which, I believe, emanate from their genuine concern about the inexplicably pervasive economic hardships and social deprivations in our country.
Though there are also some truths in Getachew’s assertions, they are, however, candy-coated with conceptual convulsions (or an excess of statistical legerdemain, if you choose) that are the hallmarks of both write-ups. For instance, based on his 1998 agricultural input application data in
Moreover, even if we assumed that 6kg/household (still much less than the national average of 16kg/hectare in 1999) is a “high rate” of adoption, we still run the risk of making irrelevant generalization for the whole country based on the findings of an empirical investigation conducted in one specific zone. In fact, according to FAO, the high adoption rates were observed in the three provinces of central
Now there could be several explanations as to why the level of fertilizer consumption in
Fertilizer for Fertility
Another important factor that determines the rate of adoption and the success of new agricultural technologies in
Many questions spring to mind when we raise the issue of providing subsidies to our farmers till they accumulate enough assets and become economically and financially independent. Considering our limited resources, can we give subsidies to all Ethiopian farmers who currently number more than 68 million encompassing 12 million rural households? If we can’t include the entire farming community into our support programme due to resource constraints, how many should be included? From which regions? What should be the criteria on which we identify and pick eligible recipients? And most importantly for how long do we need to sustain such support to our farmers, that is, when is the right time to press the exit button?
These are crucial questions of practical significance whose answers require the joint contributions and participation of statisticians, economists, high ranking government officials, agricultural experts and other stakeholders including local residents, administrators and kebele sheriffs. It is a veritable rigmarole which involves a lot of money, time and man power. It requires diligence, a sense of commitment, and greater transparency. It takes the effort, big and small, of each and every patriotic Ethiopian who has the vision to break the long standing bond between famine and Ethiopianity.
Regions or provinces may be selected based on their agricultural potential such as soil fertility, availability of suitable land that supports the efficient utilization of agricultural technologies, the amount of annual precipitation or availability of rivers that can be developed for irrigation use etc. Our criteria for the selection of target areas/districts need to give greater weight to economic efficiency than to egalitarian considerations, which are impossible to attain. Thus, (resentful) residents in less productive regions which do not participate in the support scheme would benefit from higher quality food produced in more productive regions and supplied at lower prices. Moreover, the government can also support less fortunate regions—those that do not have comparative advantage in food production—by creating off-farm employment opportunities such as through the expansion of labour intensive, small and medium sized manufacturing firms that specialize in the production and distribution of low-technology household consumption goods like soap and footwear (what Tsegaye and Getachew call industrial decentralization).
Once we agree on how to select our regions, the next task will be selecting eligible households, which certainly will be the most complex and controversial work to do. It is also in here which I hope I will make my “groundbreaking” contribution towards solving the age-old food insecurity puzzle in our country. I call my criteria “fertilizer for fertility,” and target the youngest, most productive rural couples or households, with as few children as possible (say, three and below). The choice of young couples with lower number of children has several advantages:
- To begin with, it serves as a powerful instrument in managing
’s population explosion problem, which has been growing much faster than the country’s ability to produce enough food. Combating such Malthusian crisis (higher population growth with slow agricultural expansion) requires targeting the younger generation which is more likely to be open and easy to edify about the long-term risks of having more children. Ethiopia
- People naturally respond to incentives, and more enthusiastically to financial incentives. Therefore, by providing fertilizer subsidies to such young rural couples, the government literally achieves two objectives simultaneously: increase food production through its green revolution and sell its family planning programmes. Whether the couple will stick to abstinence, prophylactic or any other family planning stratagem depends on many factors including the level of their edification, the community they live in, the availability of effective health system, the role of religious and traditional leaders in promoting such programmes etc.
- Knowing that the fertilizer subsidies they receive is conditional on controlling the number of children they would like to have, the target rural couples develop a sense of self-restraint which they willingly want to impose on themselves in exchange for free fertilizer which would increase their farm output, with a room for surplus produce that could be cashed and saved for any eventuality. There is no doubt that the existence of such incentives would encourage competition among peer groups for greater prudence in managing their family sizes.
Efficient Agricultural Financial System
It is more than a surprise that a government that boasts to be promoting the vital interests of the farming and pastoral communities in Ethiopia has not established a specialized agricultural bank that effectively addresses the special needs and circumstances of the country’s troubled agricultural sector.
Even though the Development Bank of Ethiopia (DBE) has been assigned with the responsibility to support the country’s development efforts by providing loans to agricultural and industrial investors, its impact on modernizing
Several studies have shown that there is strong positive relationship between an efficient financial/banking system and strong economic growth, including agricultural growth, even though the direction of causation is often disputed. Despite such theoretical and empirical foundations for a modern financial sector,
We may be in a better position than the
The government would help the economy if it withdraws its interfering hands from profit-making areas and focus on risky and so far unsuccessful ventures like Micro Finance Institutions (MFIs). These institutions, which claim to be working for those in the social periphery but some of them charging as high as 30% interest rates from the poorest of the poor, cannot be in the service of the needy. The government would practically prove its populist agenda if it relaxes its grip on profit-oriented financial enterprises such as the CBE and concentrate on sectors for socially disadvantaged citizens. Of course there are government sponsored regional MFIs operating in Tigray, Amhara, Oromia, etc. but as of July 2010 these regional MFIs have been able to reach out only 1.7 million poor Ethiopians, which is insufficient given the fact that some 40% of Ethiopians, most of them rural, live in absolute poverty.
Still another significant factor that should complement our green revolution campaign is a comprehensive rural electrification programme. As we all know
While little or no access to rural electricity facilities should present a sense of national urgency, we have been hearing about
To put things in perspective: as of 2008 the total population of
Peace, democracy, and freedom are vital ingredients for any society not only for their own sake but also to effectively attain its social and development goals. Paul Collier, the renowned maestro on development matters in Africa and other struggling nations, has forwarded useful insights on this subject in his celebrated book ‘The Bottom Billion’ (a euphemism for much of the destitute Sub Saharan Africa). Analyzing the causes of poverty in these countries, Collier identifies four principal traps: the conflict trap, the resource trap (e.g. ‘blood diamond’), the bad governance trap and the trap of being landlocked, all of which have significant implications for
For instance, because of the myopic decisions of our leaders in
Without both internal and external peace
So far we have been focusing on the supply side to increase production through green revolution. Yet subsidized production is not an end in itself; there must be enough demand to absorb the surplus produce obtained through the application of technologically intensive methods so that farmers can enjoy the fruition of their labour. With sufficient demand for their produce farmers will be shielded from the disastrous consequences of price collapse in the wake of bumper harvests as happened in southern
And creating enough demand requires tackling the country’s rampant unemployment problem, especially in urban and agriculturally unsustainable areas. Though correct data on unemployment in
Of course deficit hawks and free market aficionados (e.g. the IMF) do not want the government to assume active roles by spending on public projects to fight joblessness and other serious social ills. But
Thus public policies designed to reduce unemployment, besides to their role in creating sufficient demand for our green revolution, will also relieve our leaders of painful paranoia if such policies focus on long-term economic gains than short-term political advantages such as the pork barrel expenditures undertaken between 2005 and 2010, whose only tangible effects were shattering inflation and massive macroeconomic dislocations. The trade-off between tackling unemployment and running the risk of sliding into uncontrollable and socially destabilizing price hike should not escape the attention of our policy makers.
To sum up, green revolution in Ethiopia needs a comprehensive strategic intervention led by the government, and in addition to the traditional approach based on intensification of farm inputs like fertilizer and pesticides, it requires the expansion of fast and durable road and other transportation networks; the establishment of an efficient agricultural banking sector; launching an innovative population control policy; designing and implementing a comprehensive rural electrification programme; the existence of a peaceful and healthy society; making peace at home and with our neighbours and most importantly a strong (and democratic) government with a goal of maintaining social cohesion and economic security by acting as the guardian of those in the social periphery where the market has little or no interest to meet their special needs and circumstances.
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