Tableland to Taj Mahal, Barrackpore to Beijing! . . . Lessons in Leadership, not Showmanship

Tableland to Taj Mahal, Barrackpore to Beijing! . . . Lessons in Leadership, not Showmanship

30th September 2018: Most politicians in developing countries happen to coincide with the premise that people’s lives would be substantially improved, which is what the people expect earnestly. But if the economy has no material growth, the improvement of people’s livelihood is just like water without a source or a meal without rice; the promise cannot be fulfilled. Planning and advancing food and nutrition security is a clear challenge for Trinidad and Tobago. In the absence of an overarching policy framework for sustainable agriculture and rural development, key stakeholders will continue to misdirect advocacy and resources jeopardizing the national good. This multi-dimensional issue demands vision and leadership.

I am honoured to share that in February I was encouraged by the High Commission of India and fully sponsored by the Government of India to participate in an international programme on “Financing of Inclusive Agriculture and Rural Development” at the Bankers Institute of Rural Development, Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, India.

As the Indian government is ‘betting on the farm’, this high-level policy planning experience reminds that their agricultural sector is facing a dilemma. While it has made large strides in achieving the development goals of food security, availability and accessibility, it is still being challenged by a formidable agrarian crisis. This situation has led to fresh thinking on the developmental approach; prompted by fore-sighting and empowered farmers’ lobby. The need for focusing on the welfare and prosperity of farmers has gained prominence. Consequently, the Department of Agriculture and Cooperation was renamed, by the Honourable Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, on Independence Day in 2015 as the Department of Agriculture, Cooperation and Farmers Welfare. In this fresh approach, priority was accorded to making the agriculture and allied sector not only ecologically sustainable in its use of natural resources of soil, water and forests, but also socio-economically sustainable to farmers in terms of prosperity, welfare and social security. Innovating managerial solutions to maximize farmers’ welfare, rather than relying solely on modern farming to raise productivity and production, is the clarion call of the day.

Agricultural extension challenges are generally similar including a shrinking resource base, changes in demand and consumption patterns, productivity and profitability of agriculture, water and energy for agricultural, domestic and industrial uses. I can compare projects, programmes, and performance associated with the industry between India and T&T. It was interesting to identify reasons some efforts such as mobile banking failed locally while farmers and fishers continue to complain that they are underserved by our institutions and support networks. This platform is not only rolled out differently but is also multi-purpose as a hub for financial literacy and inclusion. While we do have strengths, the methodologies of T&T pales in comparison in areas such as credit for agricultural purposes, insurance, rationale for equipment acquisition, farm models, subsidy strategy, and planting material. Additionally, there appears to be a fundamental difference in organizational and human resource culture, dedication to country, and a proactive commitment to helping all people fulfill their dreams and aspirations.

In September, I was fully sponsored by the Government of China to participate in an international seminar on “Development Policy and Planning in Agriculture for Developing Countries” hosted by the China Agricultural University. The Ministry of Agriculture, Land, and Fisheries was represented by Agriculture Assistant Tristan Bhoncharan. This experience took me across China to Beijing, Hebei, Shanghai, Suzhou, Hangzhou. In addition to the exposure of the Chinese policy landscape, it created interaction and networking with wonders of the world, billion-dollar enterprises such as AliBaba, and agricultural villages like Sanggang, Longwu Watersource Project – Qingshan, and Jiangxiang - a 'model village'. Jiangxiang village in Jiangsu province has gained global fame in recent years for its successful reforms. Praised by Premier Wen Jiabao, the village is evidence of the local government's successful people-oriented policy. By 2006, Jiangxiang's total output value had reached 1.2 billion yuan, with 1.15 billion from industry. Average annual income had surpassed 16,000 yuan per capita! "Our village was established by agriculture, developed by industry and made prosperous by tourism," said Chang Desheng, village party leader. "We want wealthy villagers, blue sky, green land, clear water, abundant food and sweet melon," he continued. The area has been named a national advanced village for civilization construction and a national modernization model village. It has also received accolades for its recycling, laws and positive living environment.

In the last 40 years, the Chinese people’s lives have significantly improved; after all, it’s the achievement of effective economic development. Deng Xiaoping’s “DEVELOPMENT IS AN UNYIELDING PRINCIPLE” is best illustrated. Furthermore, development is reinvested with new implications by China’s practices, and the scientific outlook on development bears fruitful results.

In 1978 China was one of the most underdeveloped countries in the world (US$ 190 per capita). The LEARNING-BY-DOING approach for policy development and implementation ensured that policy was developed in a less risky way. In 1995 Lester Brown published a book titled "Who Will Feed China?: Wake-Up Call for a Small Planet". This prompted a policy response; China did need a LONGER-TERM VISION for national food security.

He wrote, "In an integrated world economy, China’s rising food prices will become the world’s rising food prices. China’s land scarcity will become everyone’s land scarcity. And water scarcity in China will affect the entire world. China’s dependence on massive imports, like the collapse of the world’s fisheries, will be a wake-up call that we are colliding with the earth’s capacity to feed us. It could well lead us to redefine national security away from military preparedness and toward maintaining adequate food supplies."

To feed its 1.3 billion people, China may soon have to import so much grain that this action could trigger unprecedented rises in world food prices. The book shows that even as water becomes more scarce in a land where 80% of the grain crop is irrigated, as per-acre yield gains are erased by the loss of cropland to industrialization, and as food production stagnates, China still increases its population by the equivalent of a new Beijing each year. When Japan, a nation of just 125 million, began to import food, world grain markets rejoiced. But when China, a market ten times bigger, starts importing, there may not be enough grain in the world to meet that need - and food prices will rise steeply for everyone. Analysts foresaw that the recent four-year doubling of income for China's 1.2 billion consumers would increase food demand, especially for meat, eggs, and beer. But these analysts assumed that food production would rise to meet those demands. Brown shows that cropland losses are heavy in countries that are densely populated before industrialization, and that these countries quickly become net grain importers. They saw that process in newspaper accounts as the government struggled with this problem.

By 2017, agriculture became: Leading sector for economic growth, Source of livelihoods and poverty reduction for hundreds of millions of people, Food security to feed large population, Better managed natural resources among other accomplishments. In response, China's leaders and agriculture experts' repeatedly say, "We Chinese will feed ourselves."

In the mountainous agricultural village of Sanggang is also a striving agro-tourism industry. The farmers and their families have been mentored to provide field and research assistance to a range of people from tourists, researchers, local academics and students as well as strengthening their tourism, hospitality skills and business ideas. The availability and communication of farmers’ knowledge as well as scientific support and partnership with China Agricultural University developed a special organization model.

Even though they only have access to very little arable land, which is scattered across many small plots, the peasant families cultivate an extensive range of crops. These include cotton, soybeans, peanuts, maize, sweet potatoes, millet, cabbages, many different vegetables and herbs, sesame, tree seedlings, etc. Alongside these crops there are several different fruit trees and animals including hogs, cows, chickens, goats and sheep. This ‘package’ does not remain fixed over time. Some crops, such as wheat, have disappeared, while others, such as chestnut trees and prunes, have been introduced anew. Crops differ in yield and price. Relatively extensive crops (such as wheat) have been eliminated from the cropping scheme – in large part because it requires considerable amounts of irrigation water, which is becoming increasingly scarce in Sanggang.

Main changes in cropping schemes in Sanggang village involving complex spatial reorganizations; the increase of vegetable production implies that the ratio between gardens and fields has changed: Elimination of wheat cultivation, Introduction of fruit trees, Elimination of animal traction, Increase in vegetable production, Increase in animal production (goats, chicken, hogs), and Forestation.

It is also important to note that there are other, more general, conditions that have also been helpful in creating agricultural success and freedom from poverty: The availability of good access roads (without these the marketing would be almost impossible) and the availability of electricity. Both these conditions highlight the role of the State in the overall process of on-going agrarian development, The availability and communication of farmers’ knowledge as well as scientific support, Strong partnership with China Agricultural University, The possibility of travel, to meet other people involved in promising activities, The role of the Village Committee in the (re-)distribution of land, The existence of a strong social fabric in the village that allows for cooperation and reciprocity.

Engaging Du Zhiping, Deputy County Chief, The County Government of Yi County, Hebei Province and County Directors on issues, policy, and strategy to improve the livelihoods of farmers, fishers, and rural people, poverty reduction, as well as handling issues of migration and loss of youth interest in agriculture; she said that among their support are interest-free agriculture loans, financial education and support services, partnerships between the University, other institutions, state bodies, and farmers / rural people as well as the mutual desire that there should be no poverty but upright political activity.

China is the largest producer and a major consumer of walnuts in the world. It has produced 1.1 million metric tons, which accounts for almost 50% of global production, in 2016. The per capita consumption of walnuts, by China, is also increasing yearly and has shown a growth of 10.5 times in the past 21 years. It is estimated that the consumption of China accounts for approximately 54.66% of global consumption of walnuts, in 2016. This is among many examples I can now sift in my mind when we discuss rural development in Trinidad and Tobago. Is Mayaro fish, Rio Claro cocoa, Moruga peppers, Tableland pineapple being managed and appropriated to give us a fair share?

Over the past 4-5 years, little T&T would have imported just over TT$42Mn in vegetable seeds for planting. Just about 20% of that came from China. Our #1 import market for food and agriculture products is the United States of America. China is #2. We are in 2018 and I would like some deeper insight into some of the policy thinking and the information that shaped projects and programmes and public expenditure.

We need to articulate a clear path ahead.

Not privy to the focus of discussions, government direction and intention, there remains a strong relationship between the Republic of China and our country. The government would have visited recently on a mission and state agencies and private sector are expected to participate in a trade mission to China in 2019.  Prime Minister of India Shri Narendra Modi is also announced to visit in December. These exposures gave me significant global insight into feeding 1.3 billion people. Although not perfect, there are many lessons which apply directly to our national conversations around sustaining 1.3 million people and our livelihoods.