Can we all be policy makers?
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CTA. 2001. Can we all be policy makers?. Spore 93. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
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The noble art of policy making has been opened up of late, and it can never return to its magic, secretive lamp. For the disciples of inclusion and transparency, this is progress. But should we fumble around with it a bit less clumsily?One Monday...
The noble art of policy making has been opened up of late, and it can never return to its magic, secretive lamp. For the disciples of inclusion and transparency, this is progress. But should we fumble around with it a bit less clumsily? One Monday morning in late April 2001, a smallholder farmer who, as it happens, practices organic methods in the western American state of Washington commanded the attention of the sustainable development commission of the General Assembly of the United Nations. He presented a list of topics to be included in future global food policies. That list included respect for, and use of, indigenous knowledge systems, the possibility of 'peoples patents', and full and open access to scientific research findings. What was new was not the list of demands, nor the fact that the farmer was speaking to such an august body. The novelty and some say, the great hope for the future lay in the fact that he was speaking as a member of such a body, through a process known as multi-stakeholder dialogue which includes a representative farmers group composed of farmers worldwide.The farmer s contribution to that global body was at one end of the policy making spectrum, apparently far from the fields whence the representative originally came. There, policy making is not a question of persuading diplomats to accept an abstract notion, but of hands-on reconciliation of disputes between two communities on water rights for irrigation, or between two rural community credit banks about the mopeds they share to collect loan repayments. Policy making is not a goal in itself, but merely a means to an end, namely to help a given community often a nation to achieve an objective or satisfy a need by sketching out the steps required. Those who can be called policy-makers are thus among the noblest of servants to that community. Nowadays the task of policy making is becoming more accessible, whereas it used to be conducted in some protected recesses of government institutions. The goal of an overall agricultural policy for a country will be to pull together the sometimes divergent thrusts of achieving maximum food harvests, strengthening the livestock herd , maximising earnings from cash crop exports, maintaining or raising rural employment, respecting the environment and traditional cultures, and generating revenues for the government. At times the policy maker seems more like a powerless referee in a multi-sided tug-of-war. Will opening up policy making make it any easier? No more lord and master Over the last two decades, agricultural policy making, any policy making, has undergone a shock to its once untouchable system. No longer can a particular policy direction be decided on at top level and decreed to be implemented throughout the land . No more the imposition of ill-judged and ill-fated policies such as the groundnut scheme in the East Africa of the 1940s, or the collectivisation of land in Tanzania in the 1970s and Benin in the 1980s. Rightly or wrongly, and history will probably judge for somewhere in between, there are no truly sovereign nations these days, no single country that can give full meaning to its pride and independence and no more so than in agriculture. For agriculture, and this holds way beyond the boundaries of ACP agriculture, there is a dependence on the global market place for earnings and supplies. When this is meshed with a country s vulnerability to external volatile forces, from dollar fluctuations to floods blamed upon climate change, there is no sovereignty. Especially not when some essential budget assistance from donor governments comes with the conditionalities of transparency and inclusion. Better to build bridges Even if someone else says so, it does make sense for agricultural policies to be shaped in an inclusive way, involving everyone from the field to the market stall and grocery shelf. Instead of the frictional losses of conflict and reconciliation, it is better to seek to harmonise from the beginning, however hopeless it may seem to rationally share, for example, stressed land resources or water supplies in a given area. The process of policy formulation has become decentralised, more open and participatory, although some say noisy, costly, and confusing as well. To many observers, the process has become reminiscent of local level governance in centuries past. To some visionaries, the bringing together of all parties in a multi-stakeholder dialogue where people seek to establish and implement common goals which override tribal differences, therein lies the seed of new, stable yet creative, forms of governance. We are not there yet. We are in a phase of liberalisation of national economies, with a parallel process of democratisation in a country s governance. Some parts of government are now weak, or non-existent, and in many cases the role of government is now, through regulation, to ensure the so-called enabling environment. Newcomers stuck for right words This has led to an audible rush of interested parties into the vacuums that were once the centres of economic and political power in a country. A triangle is forming, with massive progress being made along the axes between government and the commercial sector as witnessed by the public-private partnership approach. Similar progress is being made between government and civil society, who both soundly appreciate the need for each other. The weakest axis in the triangle is between commercial and non-commercial, where the clash of incompatible values is heaviest. Thus it is that in Senegal and Mali we can see the decentralisation of political authority to local rural bodies and forums; and in Burkina Faso, Botswana or Ghana the management of national parks is being delegated to NGOs. In many countries the prospect of privatisation of agricultural research is causing concern, but privatisations of other sectors of the agricultural economy, such as the emergence of chambers of agriculture, are generally welcomed. The democratisation of policy making has meant that the stage has changed: there is new scenery and there are more actors. However, the newcomers have not properly learned their lines and some of the old guard, as can be expected, are none too positive about the skills of the inexperienced newcomers. Empowerment cannot be given It may be one thing to persuade those who previously monopolised policy making to become more open after all, they have little choice. What is of greater concern is the need to help the new players to adjust to their new position. As NGOs, community-based groups and civil society bodies they have become accustomed to pointing at the faults of others; now it is time for them to share the harder task of designing policies which make no mistakes. Similar patterns hold for the private sector, which has often told the government to govern less, without really understanding how it could share in government. The last two decades of reforms in governance have seen a fashionable flood of toolkits , primarily aimed at helping governments to become inclusive. One famous World Bank toolkit on governance even warns governments against courting the civil society too quickly, since the latter may develop consultation fatigue . Now, as policy making has opened up, there is an urgent need for toolkits for the new policy actors. Until they can demonstrate their adequate skills, the new generation of policy co-makers will find that they are not properly involved. Indeed, many may shy clear of involvement, since their genetic print insists that they oppose rather than construct. For those who want to make the grade, it will be a hard slog. A recent study on policy design warns that ownership, like empowerment, cannot be given. It must be earned the hard way. [summary points] The effectiveness of inclusive policy making depends on: ability of traditional policy makers to accept newcomers ability of newcomers to develop the complex skills of: monitoring and analysis policy assessment negotiation and mediation consensus building partnership spirit These are partly technical skills, and partly attitudes. They can be learned, but they must be nurtured.
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