Bad aid to agriculture: lessons from West Africa

December 9, 2009

     By Duncan Green     

After decades of decline, aid to agriculture has started to rise in the last few ag Ghanayears in response to a renewed understanding of the role of agriculture in triggering growth and reducing poverty (see previous blog). But some recent research from 3 countries in West Africa (Niger, Burkina Faso and Ghana) suggests that quality is as much of an issue as quantity – aid to agriculture epitomises the problems that have long beset aid, and seems to be lagging behind the efforts to improve aid in other spheres (essential services, direct aid to governments etc). Here are the headlines from a new Oxfam research report:

In West Africa, the last 25 years have been marked by a twofold disinvestment in the agriculture and food sector: disinvestment by the international community, whose aid to agriculture has dropped to dangerous levels, and disinvestment by States, who have reduced the priority of agriculture in national policies. Despite the decline in aid volumes, it still provides the vast majority of funding for agriculture.

Most aid comes through innumerable projects, which are not aligned with national priorities and are poorly coordinated. Instead of building up government capacities, this multitude of projects has weakened local resources. The creation of parallel management entities competes with the State’s technical departments. Government human resources are monopolised by the short term management of the projects, monitoring procedures and evaluation missions that are specific to each donor. In 2007, projects in Niger had a total budget for running costs that was double that of the civil service agriculture department. The differences in salaries, equipment and working conditions often proves irresistible for state personnel, who jump from one project to the next or are simply take better paid jobs with donors and projects.

Those civil servants that remain spend much of their time monitoring and reporting to donors, rather than running their departments. Burkina Faso, for example, received almost 330 missions from donors in 2007. In Ghana, these missions are so numerous that the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning (MoFEP) has had to develop a code of conduct on the issue, and now imposes a two month ‘mission-free period’ while the annual budget is being drafted (see table for the 16 different departments in MoFEP given over to ghana aid bureaucracymanaging donors).

In Burkina Faso, some industries receive support from several donors (e.g., sesame, soya, onion, shea, livestock/meat, poultry farming, milk) while other industries such as maize and rice are starved of support, despite the fact that they are priority areas for the government and important for food security.

So what’s the good news? Donors have committed to increasing the volume of aid, especially for emergency aid to combat the impact of high food prices. What now needs to happen is for agricultural aid to catch up with other sectors in implementing the ideas contained in the Paris and Accra declarations. This should include:

Shifting from multiple projects to funding a single national agriculture strategy, managed by the government.

Allowing for far greater flexibility in using donor money to respond to changing circumstances rather than living (or dying) by the logframe

Coordinate between donors to reduce the administrative burden and free up time for civil servants to do what they are supposed to be doing

Support effective participation by civil society, especially farmers’ organizations, so that agricultural policies actually fit the needs of the people they are supposed to help.

December 9, 2009
Duncan Green