A guest article by Klaus Urban and Günther Feiler, who work for the Investment Centre Division (TCI) at the FAO in Rome. The TCI supports FAO member countries to design, implement and monitor large-scale investment programs. The article relates to an earlier contribution by the authors from December 2014.
In its new strategic framework the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) acknowledges the importance of addressing governance appropriately in order to interact more effectively with the political environments in which it operates and achieve its five Strategic Objectives. “Governance” is one of the four cross-cutting themes (besides nutrition, gender and climate change) to be addressed throughout all FAO work. In order to do this effectively, FAO has established a small team of professionals that support other FAO colleagues and partners in this task.
FAO addresses governance relevant for its work at two levels:
At global level FAO engages with a leading or a contributing role and in multiple international initiatives, fora or other so-called ‘international governance mechanisms’. It plays a unique role in governance of global public goods, such as natural resources (e.g. Commission on Genetic Resources), food safety (e.g. Codex Alimentarius), food security (e.g. CFS and the Zero Hunger Challenge), and the implementation of the Agenda 2030. At this level, FAO is directly involved in the relevant decision making processes.
At regional and national level FAO supports governments in the design and implementation of policies and programmes related to food security, nutrition and sustainable rural development. At this level, FAO plays mainly an advisory role. Policy support to member countries is a core element of FAO’s work for ending hunger and malnutrition, eradicating poverty and promoting sustainable development.
In this article, we refer to FAO’s involvement at regional and country level.
‘Governance’ – a ‘slippery’ concept?
There is a lot of confusion around the term governance. This is not surprising as it has been developed and used by many different disciplines in a variety of contexts during the last 20 years. There is no universally accepted definition of the term and even scholars that have been working on governance for many years consider it a ‘slippery’ concept.
The concept of modern or multilevel governance used in the field of political sciences was developed in the 90s to explain the integration of new stakeholders like the private sector and civil society organisations into the political decision making processes at national level. The concept of governance used in the institutional economics and political economy debate focused more precisely on the interactions between people and organisations trying to understand and explain the reasons for individual and organisational behaviour. The work of late Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom on the management of common pool resources (CPR) belong to this category as well as the broad debate on the ‘principal-agent’ relationship that centers on incentives for ‘expected’ behaviour and service provision and includes important factors such as power and influence.
Other concepts, such as the concepts of ‘Global Governance’ and ‘Corporate Governance’, on the other hand, are much more focused on the underlying ‘institutional structures’ – ‘Global Governance’ referring to the institutional architecture for international problem solving whereas ‘Corporate Governance’ does the same at the level of individual organizations. The aforementioned concepts are mainly analytical, meaning that they try to help understand reality better in order to contribute to improved problem solving. But there are also concepts with normative ‘intentions’ such as the concept of ‘good governance’ that promotes the adoption of a series of established good governance principles (such as transparency, accountability and participation) at the level of state and within organizations hoping that this will subsequently lead to ‘improved’ functioning of the state or improved organisational behaviour.
Already this brief illustration of five different concepts (there are many more) shows that it is difficult to expect a unified understanding of what we mean by governance. This, however, should not worry us too much. Instead of trying to identify the ‘right’ concept of governance, FAO acknowledges and respects the diversity of the broad debate. However, we should always make it clear to which of the debates we relate when we talk about governance.
What does FAO mean by governance?
In our work at country level, we can benefit very much from the first two of the debates mentioned above, the debates on modern/multilevel governance and institutional economics and political economy. If we want to approach a definition, in this context we would define governance as “the process of political decision making, that beyond the rules, regulations, and other institutional processes considers the underlying dynamics of the relationships between the involved stakeholders determined by e.g. power and influence and other incentives for behaviour”.
Governance is not only what governments do. Governance takes place at many levels in a variety of contexts. Governance ‘is’, as some authors say.
How do we propose to approach governance at country level?
In order to identify our approach to governance at country level, we had to take a strategic choice. In our ‘technical’ work over the last decades it has become clear that food security, agriculture or sustainable management and use of natural resources interventions cannot be developed and implemented without recognition of the roles of politics and institutions in shaping what actually happens on the ground. When analysing potential solutions to identified problems, it is as important to understand the actors and politics surrounding the issue as it is to develop a sound technical approach.Very often, we have adequate technical solutions, but problems related to governance hinder successful implementation.
In FAO work at country level, we thus invest in understanding the ‘politics’ around a given technical issue or problem in order to be able to support member countries in designing solutions that will be considered legitimate in the eyes of the concerned persons, have the chance to be effectively implemented and become sustainable. This does not mean that we will be getting involved in politics at country level, but that our support to countries will aim at finding solutions that are both technically sound and politically feasible.
FAO governance concept is problem driven and committed to an analytical approach and iterative problem solving (see Box for an example of addressing governance in the work of FAO at country level).
Stakeholder Analysis in Support of the Vietnam Agricultural Restructuring Programme
The recently completed Agricultural Restructuring Plan (ARP), of the Vietnam Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD), shifts the orientation of sectoral goals from physical targets to indicators related to the ‘triple bottom line’ of sustainable development. It advocates for the sector to become essentially market-led and consumer-driven, with the government’s role shifting from being the primary investor/service provider to being the facilitator of investments and services provided by others. The Plan calls for the broad application of collaborative arrangements among government agencies, the private sector, farmer/community organizations, and the scientific community—the so-called “4 Houses”. FAO is supporting the implementation of the ARP in several ways, but mainly through providing technical advice to the major government intervention for the implementation of the ARP, namely the Vietnam Sustainable Agriculture Transformation Project (vnSAT).
To effectively implement the ARP and become a facilitator of services provided by others, MARD will have to change the way it works in many ways. In particular, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) foresees strengthening its capacities in four priority areas: (i) Agriculture Investment Planning; (ii) Sector Wide Monitoring; (iii) Agricultural Innovation; and (iv) Market Development and Trade. Before embarking on the changes, supported by FAO, MARD and IPSARD, the national Policy and Strategy Institute for the agriculture sector, have decided to carry out a stakeholder analysis. MARD and IPSARD consider this analysis as an indispensable element for understanding the underlying dynamics related to the planned institutional reforms and their interrelations. Particularly, the planned strengthening of the national processes in support of agricultural innovation will require realigning some responsibilities for the public agricultural investment planning under the direction of MARD’s General Directorate of Planning and Administration. The study will help to understand how the work in the selected priority areas is presently organized and how the process of realigning future responsibilities can be carried out in the most effective way. The study has been carried out by the Agriculture Policy Centre (APC) of IPSARD and was co-financed by the ES Department’s ESD (Policy and Governance support) and EST (Trade Policy support) divisions which also have been providing technical support to the APC.
The first draft of the stakeholder analysis has been presented in December 2015. It contains a detailed description of all the major institutional processes involved in the four priority areas mentioned above as well as of the roles, interests and motivations of the major stakeholders involved. The results of this analysis will directly feed into the design of the institutional and policy reform component of vnSAT, the implementation of which is scheduled to start in 2016. It will allow to design the institutional reform processes in a way that secures that the interests and motivations of all parties involved are adequately incorporated into the design process. Once these processes are on-going, subsequent more detailed stakeholder analyses on specific aspects of the change process might become necessary.
 Jon Pierre and Guy Peters (2000): Debating Governance, Politics and the State, Oxford, p.7