Just wait a little

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The plan was to spend the day out in Chanyanya seeing how the farmers who have pooled their land to start a commercial farm distribute the returns from their first harvest.  But I’ve been stranded waiting for my motorcycle tire to get fixed.  Patch, burst, patch, burst, out of patches, waiting for more to arrive, “just wait a little,” said the mechanic. “I’ll be back…” One of those days.

With the recent G8 announcement, there is a lot of momentum behind investment in agriculture.  And with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) target date of 2015 looming on the horizon, there is a strong desire to turn that momentum into results.  Results right now.

Unfortunately, turning investment into results doesn’t happen immediately, especially in agriculture, and the push to make it happen can be counterproductive.

It takes time for repeated interactions between farmers, input providers and output markets to develop into trusting relationships, on which productivity enhancement can be built.  Institutions need to change, but often the agricultural sector is highly politicized.  The seasonality of agriculture leads to long cycles between learning and adjusting.  Sometimes, like fixing a persistently punctured tire, things just take time to get done well.

The push to get quick results can be self-defeating.  Companies pull out funding when early return on investment figures don’t add up, when the big money comes in later.  Donors create short lifespan projects, but try to compensate by increasing the annual budget.  By the time the first seasons are over, project staff are looking to the next contract, shiny reports are written, and the next project kicks off.  Later, when (if) evaluations come in showing poor results, donors become disenchanted and move on to different approaches.  (See Easterly’s article [pdf], top of pg 69, for a brief synopsis).  There’s no time to develop and capitalize on that crucial tacit knowledge that comes with working in one locale for an extended amount of time.

Donors, investors: with long-term commitment, there is tremendous opportunity to create positive change and generate wealth through agriculture.  We hope you’ll stick around.

Eventually another patch showed up, and the motorbike sprung back to life.  I guess I’ll be going out to Chanyanya tomorrow.

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About

Working to include smallholder farmers in agricultural markets, we know there are no easy answers. This blog is a place to ask "What does it take to make it work?" and to share what we're seeing and learning.
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