Posted By in AgriProFocus Myanmar
Posted 28 November 2017 at 05:38

Learning event Agricultural Development Strategy; From just another document to a successful living strategy

On 22 November 2017, Oxfam and AgriProFocus Myanmar facilitated a learning event about the Agriculture Development Strategy (ADS). The ADS is regarded as the most comprehensive new strategy for the agricultural sector in Myanmar. After an extensive consultation process, the ADS is now in its final stage of development and will be launched soon by the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation (MoALI). We invited members of our network to discuss the key elements of the ADS, the consultation process and the critical steps toward successful implementation.

We invited Madelon Meijer, Policy Advisor Agriculture at Oxfam Novib to share her assessment of the ADS from her wider perspective. She has wide experience in supporting the development of agricultural strategies around the world and visited Myanmar to peer-review the ADS.

The development of the ADS started in August 2016, with the requirement of the World Bank to develop a comprehensive strategy for the agriculture sector in Myanmar. While the development was initially very top down, Oxfam and other civil society organizations advocated for a more inclusive process. They supported the FSWG (Food Security Working Group) and the ADS team to facilitate consultations 17 states and regions.

Madelon Meijer gave an overview of the key elements of the ADS, which can be found in the presentation attached. Overall, she regarded the ADS as a comprehensive and ambitious document promising changes in budget allocation. Madelon pointed out that the ADS is still open for influencing and encouraged the participants to keep monitoring the implementation of the ADS. The support this process, she shared some hooks in the document to start a discussion.

Consultant Thijs Wissink, who has been following the consultation process closely, shared some critical issues related to the ADS. He stressed the importance of integrating the ADS in the whole ministry and existing institutions, instead of regarding it as a separate entity. Furthermore, he suggested the setup of an Agricultural Innovation Policy, comprising research, extension and education.

Hooks to continue the discussion

In the discussion after the tea break, a number of very good questions and comments were raised. These all provide potential hooks to further the discussion from different angles (both thematic and institutional) and support the process of the ADS:

  • On coherence: It should be clear how documents are related and which one is the leading document. An agriculture sector policy is being drafted (by officials at MOALI) in parallel to the writing of the ADS. How to ensure the two are aligned? The ADS is said to be written to implement policy, but how does this work, given it was developed in parallel?

  • On decentralization: The ADS strongly focusses on the central government, what will be the process of implementation of the ADS at regional level? For example, Yangon and Mandalay regions are developing their regional agriculture strategy – how to ensure it aligns with the ADS and get their ownership on implementation regarding the ADS? What budget will they get to be responsible for? Another important question is how to adapt and contextualize the ADS to specific local circumstances.

  • On the budget: the first opportunity to influence will be the actual reallocation of the budget (one participant raised the issue that agricultural education would need a much larger budget). What will be the process to going about this reallocation? It was also mentioned that an increased budget alone will not help if you don’t have the human resources and capacity to spend it.

  • What will be the role of regional and union parliaments in implementation of the strategy?

  • How to support farmer organizations to develop their business?

  • Graduates from the State Agricultural Institutes (SAIs) hardly want to get involved in farming (at least, they don’t want to be traditional farmers). There is no strategy how to get young people interested in farming.

  • The focus on smallholders in the ADS is so prominent thanks to the donors’ concerns. In actual practice, they have a tiny share of the cultivated land. What are the actual pathways for them to grow? They partly rely on non-farm income. Does the ADS address the real challenges facing small scale farmers?

  • Although the ADS incorporated targets related to gender, many local stakeholders lack the understanding of the underlying reasons. Extension staff just try to get enough signatures from female participants to reach their target and objectives, without really incorporating them in the trainings. How to cultivate a change of mindset / different ways of working?

  • Periodical reporting on progress will make the government more accountable to the actual needs on the ground. It’ll be part of a long process of change.

Priority issues for follow up

  • Monitoring and Evaluation

  • Address gender (GEN)

  • Strengthening farmers’ organizations (EKN)

  • Policy coherence (Helvetas and Thijs Wissink)

  • Ability to manage and spend a budget

  • Continued stimulation at regional and state level to make sub-national implementation work (Oxfam, others?)

  • Advocate for increased budget for particular line-items (one participant mentioned Research, extension and education in particular)

We hope this list of issues will provide the opportunity to continue discussions about the strategy. By engaging different stakeholders, we hope the ADS will not just be another document, but a living successful strategy.