Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Clash of beliefs

This blog was co-written by Fran Seballos, IDS and Nathan Oxley, FAC.

Why do African governments adopt their policies? Incentives – for example, the desire for politicians to adopt popular policies that will allow them to stay in power – play a part. But so do ‘policy beliefs’, which are constructed around ideology, as well as a sense of ownership and values.

Studies from Ghana and Uganda presented yesterday at the Political Economy of Agricultural Policy in Africa conference showed how a clash of policy beliefs can create real problems. Contrasting policy beliefs held by a ‘donor coalition’ and ‘domestic coalition’ in each country result in ‘two separate worlds’ or policy processes. In both coalitions, there was broad agreement that productivity was lower than desired. But the different understandings of underlying causes resulted in contrasting policy responses.

In Uganda, during the process of setting up National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS), there was a crucial split between two groups: a ‘radical’ coalition (associated with the World Bank and Ministry of Finance) which advocated radical reform to extension services – and a ‘gradual’ coalition (including the Ministry of Agriculture and local government) in favour of more gradual reform.

There was also a stark contrast in how the two groups saw themselves – unsurprisingly, in a favourable light – and each other. The radical group saw the gradual group as defending vested interests, while the gradual group saw the radical group as being captured by external donors and their reform models. At one point, the conflict led to the gradual group being virtually excluded from the policy process.
The research shows the impact of values, ideology and ownership on policy – factors which are sometimes under-recognised in discussions of the political economy of agriculture.