The development of Eritrea's agriculture sector
BanaTomB Agro Industry in Eritrea
By G. Damr
Quite frequently, it has been argued that one of the maladies that mark the developmental paradigm in Third World countries is incompetency in planning and management. True enough, but equally devastating was also poor prioritization within the sectors of the national economy.
In a new beginning, setting priorities might perhaps look less formidable at face value; if only because it is possible to start on a clean slate.Furthermore, there are opportunities to draw lessons and best practices from accumulated experiences of others.
On the downside, the magnitude of the problems one has to grapple with may well accentuate the complexity of prioritisation.
Yet the merits of prioritization are palpable both for optimal dividends and effective policy making. In an event where time and capacity are not on one’s side, focusing your energy by prioritizing your objectives is a wise policy choice. Eritrea’s situation now is not different from such a reality.
After cyclic decades of war and natural calamities, independent Eritrea was left with too much to be mended. To mention the most urgent: infrastructural rehabilitation; extension of basic public services; adequate power supply; ensuring food security within erratic precipitation patterns and archaic agricultural methods; etc. The list is indeed long.
Within this broad perspective, agricultural development and modernisation assumes high priority for several cogent considerations. As the experience of many third world countries indeed testify, agriculture as a developmental sector has come to tremendously influence, if not determine, the political and economic sovereignty of states. Self-sufficiency in food, has indeed been directly correlated to economic growth, social justice, and political independence and stability.
In Eritrea where more than 60% of the people rely on farming for their daily livelihood, focus on agriculture has employment, quality of life and social justice dimensions that transcend quantitative parameters of aggregate production.
In this sense, agricultural policy is based on the twin pillars of modern agricultural undertakings to enhance food security in its broadest sense – to meet domestic consumption needs as well as to focus on high-yield exports – and purposeful interventions and support to individual small farmers to increase house hold income. In this sense, the economic improvement of the farming section of the society will have a corresponding effect on the development of infrastructure and services that would give them an opportunity to move up on the socio-economic ladder.
Besides this manifest role agriculture plays in the national economy, the latent functions it have are also equally important. One such result of a good policy in that sector is the number of jobs it can create. Agriculture has been used so effectively in many European and Asian countries during their heyday of development as a unique opportunity to create employment and avoid any social upheaval. In Africa with the rapid growing of population of job entrants and unemployment, developing the agricultural sector has been recommended as a wise strategy.
Besides creating employment, agriculture also contributes to the national economy through export and industrialization. Agricultural development always stimulates small scale industries, which flourish along with the agricultural products. Processing industries, such as the textile industry, fish meat and dairy products processing are the common outshoots of successful agricultural investments.Revenue generated from agriculture can also be used for other economic endeavours and programs.
Another added value of agriculture is its political dimensions. For quite a long time food insufficiency in many African countries has been synonymous with political insecurity. Western countries, in particular have used food aid to interfere in the domestic affairs of third world countries beyond normally accepted limits. A report from foodfirst.com states that the US law PL 480 for example, explicitly tied food aid to political goals, especially during the Cold War.
Food insecurity leads to dependency which in turn breads political manipulation through the bargaining away of sovereignty.
Yet there are also pitfalls that must be avoided. Exclusive focus on big agricultural industrialization has not been generally successful in several African countries. In this respect, Eritrea has pursued a judicious policy that is firmly anchored on the symbiotic relationship of large scale and household farming. The Government’s purposeful policies of extending invaluable support and subsidies to farmers through crop and fertilizer distribution, free vaccination, and the provision of free consultancy that extends down to subsistence farmers is a vivid expression of this policy.
In tandem with bolstering small scale, house-hold level agricultural output, the government has also been laying the ground, through substantive investment in water and associated infrastructure, for expansive modern irrigation. These undertakings will ensure, for the long-term, sustainable harvests irrespective of the vagaries of nature defined by erratic rainfall patterns. The complementarities of the twin approaches will thus result in augmented aggregate production while ensuring gradual transformation and modernization of the production matrix.
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