The Policy Systems Approach to Agriculturally Led Development
The people we want most to help in development — the poor, the hungry, the thirsty, the vulnerable, women and children, the 16-year-old mother — are marginalized economically, socially, and especially in policy processes. If we could unlock the gates to policy and socio-economic processes, then we could open effective pathways to ending poverty, hunger, thirst, and vulnerability.
The policy systems approach is based on three observations:
1) development is a multi-stakeholder phenomenon;
2) specific policies emerge from an underlying system that governs policy formulation and implementation; and
3) many development stakeholders — especially the people who would most benefit from inclusive development — are marginalized in existing policy formulation and implementation processes.
Consequently, development policies emerging from these processes do not represent the needs of the marginalized populations.
Changing specific policies without changing the underlying policy system and processes will be ineffective. Neither government nor society will seek to implement these policies effectively, and eventually they will give rise to an updated version of the old policy that again represents systemically entrenched interests. Static policy systems create an inability for governments to move away and stay away from ineffective policies such as maize export bans in Tanzania or overvalued exchange rates in Ethiopia. Malawi’s heavy subsidies for agricultural inputs, put in place to respond to the drought of 2005, may once have had political upside but did little to generate growth over the following decade and even less to build resilience, as a drought in 2015-16 demonstrated. Zimbabwe’s land redistribution policy was put in place for political reasons but decimated its agriculture and economy. Low-income economies are typically replete with bad policies. This means that even more important to development than specific policies are the policy systems that generate these policies.
Inclusive, enabling, effective development policies must be responsive to and accountable for meeting the articulated needs of development stakeholders. But these policies will not and cannot emerge from a policy system that marginalizes the stakeholder voice; that lacks inclusive, evidence-based policy dialog; and that lacks accountability by all stakeholders. Consequently, the policy systems solution is to stimulate the growth of policy processes that are inclusive, transparent, reliant on evidence and dialog, and accountable to all stakeholders including previously marginalized stakeholders.
The policy systems approach strengthens policy systems in five ways:
i) developing inclusive, evidence based policy dialog spaces where the marginalized can articulate their voices;
ii) building capacity within marginalized groups to articulate their voices forcefully but constructively;
iii) mirroring this capacity within government and other stakeholders to hear the voice of marginalized populations;
iv) generating and implementing specific policies that address the needs of marginalized populations; and
v) creating mutual accountability among all stakeholders to invest in development policy processes including social institutions that contribute to development outcomes.
At the end of this effort to strengthen policy systems, we envision a much more inclusive and self-reliant socio-political process that opens economic opportunities to previously underrepresented groups. We envision a socio-economic process supported in sound policy in which the teenage mother and her children can access pathways leading to longer, healthier, more secure lives.
Prepared by James F Oehmke, BFS/ARP/POL. The ideas expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the U.S. Agency for International Development.