Author: Nervious Siantombo, August 5 2014 - Citizen participation is a critical element in the development of Zambia’s agriculture sector, which is the mainstay of the majority of the country’s population.
In matters of policy and service delivery, citizen involvement makes duty bearers more accountable for their decisions and actions. This ensures that there is inclusivity and accountability in the processes, and that policies are responsive to citizens’ service needs and development aspirations. To do this, citizens must be empowered with the right information, skill and platforms for policy monitoring.
The livelihoods of the majority Zambians in peri-urban and rural communities rely on the agricultural sector. Numerous sources indicate that the sector absorbs approximately 85 percent of the country’s labour force as subsistence farmers. Agriculture is regarded a priority sector in achieving sustainable economic growth, food security and poverty reduction, and this has seen the sector receive a good share of investment, particularly in the area of policy.
Some of the policies have expectedly yielded positive results. For instance, although a subject of much debate, government’s policy of providing inputs to the small scale farmers who produce the bulk of the staple crop - maize is acclaimed to have resulted in increased yields, dubbed bumper harvests. It may also be argued that the cattle vaccination policy aligned to the long term strategy of disease free zones (DFZ) is equally setting the development of the livestock sub-sector on the right path.
Despite these notable gains, concerns still arise about the sector’s failure to significantly impact the country’s poverty reduction agenda. This is attributable to a number of reasons and one of them is low levels or lack accountability in policy implementation, mostly because citizens who are beneficiaries and stakeholders are not in a position to monitor policy implementation and hold duty bearers accountable. There is therefore need to enhance citizen participation in policy monitoring.
To contribute to addressing these issues, Panos Institute Southern Africa (PSAf) has been working towards improving citizens’ access to information and knowledge about the existing key agro policies that have a huge bearing on their productivity and production as well as their rights and responsibilities to ensuring that such policies are responsive to their needs. PSAf has also been promoting access to platforms for free expression of their opinions and concerns, and also active participation in informed policy debates and dialogue from their own perspective. By working closely with community media and building their capacity in social accountability and participatory methodologies, PSAf has been working to empower local communities with skills to effectively play their indispensible beneficially role in policy monitoring and holding duty bearers accountable.
There are several ways that this is done but the most plausible and effective is the combination of radio and mobile telephony built around sizeable community radio listening and discussion groups. This approach offers a two-pronged communication system - short text messaging (SMS) and radio programming. In this system the groups are equipped with mobile phones, voice recorders and wind up/solar radio sets for information access and communication, content development and radio listening.
Policies need to be synthesised and messages translated into an appropriate vernacular language are developed and passed on to the target small community groups through mobile phone based SMS to create awareness and understanding of the policies. The use of local language would make it easy for citizen understand and participate given the literacy challenge in peri-urban and rural communities.
The text messages in turn form the basis for radio programming. They stimulate service delivery oriented discussions by the groups and these discussions which are recorded using a voice recorder the groups are trained to competently operate are sent to a participating local radio station for air play and subsequent response from duty bearers through a live interactive radio programme.
Such an intervention will almost certainly circumvent the challenge accountability in policy implementation, particularly at community level as citizens will be better equipped to actively participate in policy monitoring and holding duty bearers to account.
Nervious Siantombo is PSAf Regional Programme Manager for Environment and Natural Resources Management. For feedback, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.