Cover Image
close this bookCERES No. 074 (FAO Ceres, 1980, 50 p.)
close this folderUnsnarling the bureaucracy
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentMaking social forestry work

(introduction...)

DEVOLUTION AND RURAL DEVELOPMENT:

Poor performance of government administered agricultural development programmes is a major source of concern in many developing countries. Experience shows that, even in those countries with a long tradition of managing their own affairs, the administrative machine cannot meet the needs of modern delivery systems which have accelerated development demands. With some notable exceptions, increased investment and application of technology have not brought about the desired improvements in levels of production and living standards for the broad mass of rural people. To an increasing extent, observers are reaching the conclusion that the main constraints on development are not technological or even financial, but are essentially organizational and administrative. This point was well summed up by Waterson: "Few countries can cope with the administrative problems which development planning brings. These problems are so complex that in most less-developed countries the limitation on implementing plans is not money but administrative capacity."

Many will agree that national objectives and planned goals for rural development are unlikely to be realized unless they reflect local needs and priorities and unless these are both understood and accepted by local communities. Some may argue about the extent to which governments themselves should be involved directly in the provision of services; others have pointed out that government-administered initiatives in rural development frequently fail to achieve the effectiveness and success that the policy makers and planners desire.

Dandekar has stated that the targets of many plans for agricultural development have little meaning, validity or sanction, since they are imposed from above and do not take into proper account the fact that the ultimate decisions lie with farmers. This notion, that there is too much 'top-down' ordering of development by government, has gained support in recent years and has been a source of enthusiasm for the so-called bottom-up approach.

Duplication of functions

In its Provisional Indicative World Plan, FAO drew attention to one of the most serious obstacles to effective planning and implementation of agricultural development, namely the proliferation or fragmentation of responsibility among a number of government departments, agencies and other more autonomous organizations in the provision of agricultural services. Modern agricultural programmes require an ever-widening number of inputs and the scale of operations has broadened with the number of ministries, departments and agencies created to provide them. In some countries there are separate ministries dealing with crops and livestock; in others there may be a range of ministries for land, water, forestry, fisheries, cooperatives, agrarian affairs, etc. There is also a bewildering array of parastatal agencies with varying degrees of autonomy to deal with such matters as agricultural research, extension, supply of inputs, marketing, credit, specific area development schemes. Duplication of functions by departments within the same ministry, and by different ministries, is extraordinarily wasteful of scarce resources and very confusing to farm communities, especially where advice and services conflict.

Problems arising from the excessive fragmentation of functions may be mitigated to some extent by close coordination between agencies, but effective planning and execution of development programmes depend not only on organizations collaborating closely together but also that their activities should be harmonized. Well coordinated programmes are those that depend on achieving the combined effect of a series of interdependent elements or factors, by bringing them together at the right time, in the right place and in proportion appropriate to development needs. In arguing this point, Baldwin said that each of the necessary services could make its contribution at the proper time without regular interaction among the units, but in practice this "does not happen unless such interaction occurs."

The interdependence of factors in the agricultural development process is exemplified in this report of the experience of the Intensive Agricultural Development Programme in India:

"All too often the promised fertilizers and improved seeds do not arrive in time for planting. Not infrequently, the farmers are unable to get a loan in time to purchase package inputs - simply because of inefficiencies and delays in processing loan applications. Demonstration equipment lies idle for lack of repair and soil testing falls months behind schedule. Crop spoilage occurs for lack of storage, processing or transportation facilities and various kinds of technical information which should have been conveyed to the farmers were not, often with dire consequences. In sum, agricultural development is being depressed by administrative ineffectiveness."

Excessive paper work

Outdated administrative practices, typically the failure to delegate authority for local-level decisions and expenditure of funds, completely hamstring development activities in the field. Conversely, over-centralized administration with its excessive paper work, too many officials involved in the taking of decisions, outdated financial and accounting control systems- all these result in creation of bottlenecks, inflexibility and endless delays. Outdated administrative practices, particularly at the field level, place heavy demands on field managers who have little experience and are thus less able to cope.

Observations worldwide confirm that decentralization of public services and effective delegation of authority to utilize resources locally are extremely limited. Some public agricultural administrations may hold back on decentralization because of limited managerial capacity of their field managers, but a more depressing fact is that many completely fail to recognize that the growing pace of development cannot be satisfied unless dynamic efforts are made to strengthen their field services.

Project management of multidisciplinary agricultural development programmes is a concept usually associated with externally financed technical assistance activity. Few ministries or departments of agriculture make provision for agricultural development officer/managers with the necessary authority to take overall leadership of a ministry's services operating at the area or local level, and this concept is virtually unknown when it comes to managing agricultural programmes in which several ministries and related agencies are involved. In the absence of such management provision, "it is often the end-user (usually the small farmer) who, de facto, has to act as the coordinator of these activities."

Siffin mentioned that the problem of getting competent management is great but not nearly so great as getting well-motivated management, and he argued that more knowledge was needed on the subjects of motivation and incentives, "and about the circumstances under which those seem to work." The subject of incentives is beyond the scope of this article but it should be mentioned that inadequate delegation of authority to field staff and an apparent lack of trust by the head office, combined with low pay, inadequate transportation, misuse of staff at lower levels (political influence in recruitment and career development being related factors), largely account, as Waterson has suggested, for low morale, incompetence, slackness and waste.

Most governments recognize the need for decentralization of their services but there is a marked lacuna between this recognition and actual achievements. Effective devolution, by the transfer of responsibility for certain services and functions to local bodies - both local councils and farmers' organizations-is a remote concept in the developing world. Vernon Ruttan has wisely observed that: "Rural communities must be sufficiently well organized to interact effectively with the delivery agencies in the establishment of priorities. Moreover, they must be able to provide incentives for efficient bureaucratic performance." However, he accepts that such organization is extremely difficult to achieve.

The emergence of local communities like the Saemaul Udong in the Republic of Korea is an interesting development worthy of careful study. It has been said about the Saemaul Udong that "despite the complete government commitment from the top down, the movement was not centrally directed but was basically a self-reliant people's movement. Initiative and planning started from the village level... (however) the movement could not have succeeded had it not been for the well-coordinated government support across all departments."

The inadequate link

Governments have to discover what kind and in what way appropriate institutional structures can be introduced which strongly emphasize people's involvement and participation in the planning and implementation process. A major conclusion at a recently held high-level meeting of experts from Asian and Pacific countries was that major demands on the agricultural sector in the years ahead will require increased devolution by governments of many responsibilities at present the concern of the public sector. "Presentday administrators of agricultural development will need to think boldly of future needs and the changes that will be required in organizational structures, administrative systems and the attitudes of the administrators themselves toward rural people in the future."'

Probably as the direct result of several of these major constraints, governments have sought to introduce new organizational and institutional models to meet the needs of specific area development programmes and projects. One popular solution is the establishment of vertically and horizontally integrated development agencies or project authorities, responsible

Failure to delegate authority for local-level decisions blocks activities in the field for all the "inputs" in the project area. The extension services and systems for farm input supply, credit and marketing-to name the main ones-are designed for this one project. Such arrangements are outside the national institutional framework and many problems result therefrom, typically: the inadequate link or contact (sometimes a complete void) between each technical ministry, department, agency on the one hand and the project authority on the other; as a consequence, extreme difficulty in achieving harmony in political objectives and financial control for which the sectoral ministries are responsible; minimal reference by project management to the wider objectives of rural development in the project area (in some cases the project authority virtually isolates itself from the provincial or district administration); exceptional talents required for managing such a complex operation, a scarce commodity in any country; and institutional arrangements that are rarely replicable on a national basis.

Although such models have frequently been successful on a pilot project basis, these rarely can be translated effectively onto a national or regional scale, partly because the rate of staffing input cannot be maintained and partly because "access to the higher decision-making levels of government and administrative freedom to tailor programmes precisely to local conditions are frequently sacrificed to administrative convenience where projects are generalized."'

A recently published United Nations study has noted that while, in theory, external assistance should be coordinated by individual governments, in practice ministries and departments compete for their share of foreign assistance and, perhaps not surprisingly, the UN specialized agencies have increasingly become associated with the work of particular ministries. Undoubtedly, the UN Development Programme does achieve a measure of coordination through its strong relationships with ministries of planning, finance and external affairs, but the study also recognizes that the latter tend to leave "the conceptual thrust of programmes ... to the technical ministries."

If account is also taken of the large volume of the external technical assistance and investment capital received by developing countries for the agricultural sector, which in most countries greatly exceeds that of UNDP, it can be appreciated that the degree of coordination of foreign assistance needed will be very difficult to achieve.

Two critical features largely influence the impact of external assistance.

In the first, national institutional and organizational arrangements for particular programmer and projects may be decisively influenced by the domestic institutional philosophies or approaches of the external agencies themselves. This feature, which can apply in the case of bilateral assistance, deserves objective examination and is worthy of detailed discussion separately. The second and more serious feature in the context of improving the organization and administration of agricultural development is the adverse effect of a fragmented approach by external agencies. It is not uncommon that assistance to national systems of agricultural research, extension, training or to such services as plant protection, animal health, seed production, etc., is given by several external agencies at the same time. The degree and sophistication of such assistance place demands on existing structures (or on governments' ability to build new ones), and on their ability to provide adequately trained staff, which go beyond their capacity and greatly exceed their administrative and managerial capability. A question worth asking is just how many national directorships of foreign-aided projects can one director of agriculture serve at the same time?

Naturally sensitive

In overcoming this most difficult of problems, developing countries must strive to adopt a programme rather than a project approach. Clearly, a well-coordinated institutional/organizational framework for the agricultural sector would greatly minimize the degree of uncoordinated and fragmented external technical assistance.

In any attempt to improve the organization and administration/management of agricultural development programmes, serious attention ought to be given to relatively simple ideas that relate to improvements rather than reform of national administrative systems, the latter involving decisions concerning the public sector as a whole and taking much longer to complete. (However, in some countries the national administrative system is so archaic or inefficient that administrative reform is essential if development needs are to be met.) As governments are naturally sensitive to external proposals for organizational and institutional change, suggestions for improvement must have a practical and realistic appeal by being in harmony with national and administrative philosophy.

The size of operation should be geared to the resources available and the level of available management capability. Siffin has stressed the need for simplicity and that "the scale of a programme should be manageable." FAO's Indicative World Plan was against weak and dispersed field programmes, arguing in favour of governments "concentrating their scarce resources at first in smaller geographical areas where the minimal institutional framework can be established."

Based on resources available, especially of lower level management, governments should progressively introduce country-wide programmes of decentralization, delegating authority to local levels for the utilization of resources of manpower, funds, transport and for the organization and management of well-coordinated delivery systems that maximize participation and involvement of local people in decision-making.

An agricultural manager or agricultural development officer with authority to coordinate all services provided by a ministry of agriculture should be appointed at the local level. Where appropriate, and depending on managerial capacity, this assignment should be extended to cover coordination of an overall programme in the agricultural sector, irrespective of the agencies/ministries involved.

The field manager should be capable of providing leadership of a well-articulated team comprising both directly employed ministry/department staff and the inputs from more autonomous agencies such as agricultural input corporations, credit banks and marketing boards. The role of coordination and leadership should not be confused with technical direction, which will continue to be the responsibility of the technical units involved.

The prime responsibility

The concept of a local centre as the focal point of an effective agricultural delivery system, close enough to reach small-farmer communities and be reached by them, is a critical structural requirement. Agricultural ministries are among the few with a semblance of field services but in many cases these are established at a local district headquarters, frequently at too great a distance from the farming communities to offer an effective service.

The initial emphasis in this article on the coordination of field-level programmes was intentional. However, at successively higher levels (province, region) up to the national level, the same principles apply. To ensure the closest coordination and control over policy formulation, planning and implementation at the national level, one government ministry, usually the ministry of agriculture or its equivalent, should be designated as the focus for national agricultural policy and plans. It should have the prime responsibility for coordinating the implementation of agricultural development plans, irrespective of whatever other government ministries, agencies or autonomous bodies are involved.

Given this responsibility, it should be appropriately strengthened and its staff chosen and trained with great care. If ministries of agriculture are to be given more status and support, then the ministers themselves should be persons of exceptional ability and have seniority within the cabinet of ministers.

A cynical attitude

One observer in the field of training for senior administrators has commented: "The realization is growing that agricultural development and administrative development must go hand in hand together." Implicitly recognized is that agricultural capability is in short supply and that vigorous steps are needed to remedy the situation. FAO has developed a programme that focuses on the training of senior agricultural administrators and managers. Its aim is to bring about a greater awareness and appreciation by both general and technical administrators and managers (at senior, middle and lower categories; at headquarters, provincial, district and project levels) of the process of agricultural development itself. National training programmes would be an essential part of a continuing exercise for the improvement of agricultural development administration. They would be a means of making the development objectives more widely known, of defining priorities at different times and places, and of determining whether or not, where and in what way the organizational and administrative system would be geared to achievement of these objectives.

A cynical attitude toward the civil service and the view that "bureaucracy" is a synonym for inefficiency have gained ground in the developing world in recent years. To this may be added the apparent unwillingness of many governments to recognize that much of their increasing expenditures on public agricultural sector activities are being wastefully applied, largely because of serious organizational and administrative weaknesses.

The evidence of recent experiences is that lasting improvements will not come through intensive, specially organized, integrated agricultural and rural development projects, unless these are financed and organized as part of a national institutional and organizational framework. Still to be recognized is that government administrations for agriculture require massive reorientation toward development; that organization structures and administrative systems must be adapted and geared to development needs.

A fact of life

This means more than decentralization of governmental machinery and delegation of authority to field managers. It means a recognition that the demands of farmers and their families in the years ahead will be on such a scale that even vastly improved public services will not entirely be able to cope. For this reason and because it is a fact of life that agricultural development will only occur if there is full people's involvement, governments must concentrate on strengthening their people's desire and capability to solve their own problems through their own social organizations and institutions. To bring this about, governments must strengthen the administration of their field services, and through improved coordination of successively higher echelons, establish an effective two-way channel to ensure that local plans are not only fully taken into account but also that they are in harmony with national objectives and the resources available.

The way things are done will vary from one country to another as policies and programmes vary. A government's ability to decentralize (and its willingness to devolve functions and responsibilities) are domestic matters which a country has to decide for itself. As to improving (or reforming) its organizational structures and administrative/management practices, this again is a decision that governments must take by themselves, but once they have done so, they can be assisted from the outside. Indeed, they will probably profit from an external appraisal, since internal evaluations by the bureaucracy tend to become highly subjective.