Policy is an elephant.. Analysts come to kill it!


The room is not packed, about 25 people from 3 large regions of the World – the Caribbean, Pacific and Africa. Of course, one can understand why people don’t want to attend policy meetings. They are extremely long, boring, and no blood veins in them. Not just that! Policies have rarely worked in the many years of trying to cultivate social development for these regions because they are messy, complex, crafted in words not well understood by ordinary citizens. Yet, they took the form of laws and regulations with their burdens borne to the ordinary citizens.

However, if people had known that this meeting was planned specially for the enemies of policies, they’d have turned up in droves. Three people took control of the meeting. All of them ladies, and they brought with them tools and strategies to give to those who are keen to kill elephants – the non-workable public policies. Handy!

Let’s face it

Like Shantal Munroe-Knight from the Caribbean Policy Development Centre (CPDC) exposed it, many public policies are white papers only, sewn with chaotic measures, often made by just few officials and consultants conditioned by political pressures, the social and economic environment, historical factors; to suit the few large business chains, the manifestos of a government, and funding agencies who want to see that nothing written there goes against the guidelines of large world organisations they aligned their features to – trade policies, production standards, and consumption rules. Read between the lines please!

For me, coming from a modest country where public policies made for the last 35 years of our independence, rarely achieved what was intended for the people and their livelihood, I’m keen to arm myself to advocate to decision makers on how to make adjustments from unworkable policies, because of fear. I fear for the large segment of our population could be displaced and incapacitated to take control of their lives in a volatile environment, shaped and unrestrained by the work of global dynamics let by large businesses, agencies and our invariably short-lived governments. They appear in the form of public policies.

Bring on the analysts

Public policies should not be that bad. If a policy is not making meaningful improvement on the ground to change peoples’ livelihoods, it certainly means it was never analysed. This sad fact appears widely in so many development goals it prompted agriculture and development analysts, in our context, to employ something called “Policy Analysis”, an emerging tool in management schools.

Agriculture policy analysis aims to diagnose the boring and unworkable stuffs in an already existing policy – those things that were left out, things written without the participation and voices of farmers and the people it was intended for; and reform the rules to guide goals that are practical, achievable, and shoot straight for social development.

The emerging Agri-policy analysts take on the existing policy and reforms failure so that it determines the quality of the air we breathe and the water we drink. It affects the food we eat – how it is harvested, where it is distributed and sold, and how much we pay. It controls the way in which we clean and monitor the safety of the water supply, for example. A good policy sets limits so that environment is clean and enabling.

Storage and transportation of produce and products are other domains governed by a variety of analysed agri-policies. It determines the component of a country which combines income, sales and payroll taxes – and their respective levels. These things are construed in our basic human rights.

Good policy promotes farmers and livelihood

Peta Turnbull is one of the emerging consultants assisting Vanuatu to decide on the country’s new livestock policy.

“In the beginning, as I tried to gauge farmers views on policies it would seem most perceived it as a dead log created in a meeting room for a close circuit of choice individuals so they can come back all the time to see how much of it is yet to rot. Perhaps that is why so many farmers claim to have very little or no understanding of policy. In fact, many would say that they don’t need a policy for their business or activities. Others say it has only a minor impact on their small-holder businesses.

But now with policy analysis we know that an action-oriented and people-centred approach is key to achieving their development goals. We bring all the big and small farmers together to decide on policies that affects their lives daily. They are so excited”.

Motivation for doing policy analysis is linked closely to the methods chosen; that is, knowing “why” can tell us a great deal about “how”.

Policy analysis involves the application of problem-solving techniques to questions about government actions and statements. Taking on this challenge would show us where the elephant starts and ends. Kill the Elephant already!

Photo credit: IITA

Blogpost by Lopez Marac Adams, Social Reporter for the Caribbean-Pacific Agri-Food Forum 2015. 

Copyright © 2016, CTA. Technical Centre for Rural and Agricultural Cooperation

CTA is a joint international institution of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and the European Union (EU). CTA operates under the framework of the Cotonou Agreement and is funded by the EU.