Mutual accountability appeared in high-level global dialogues as a tool to manage development results in the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness and the Accra Agenda for Action and as a fundamental principle in the Busan Partnership Agreement. The underlying concept has been further refined in the African Union’s Malabo Declaration on Accelerated Agricultural Growth and Transformation. In this concept, development of agricultural countries through inclusive, agriculture-led growth is a complex process that works best when all stakeholders are aligned and contributing as well as benefiting from this development.
Why mutual accountability?
Today’s development processes are increasingly complex. The Green Revolutions of the 1960s and '70s were driven by improved agricultural inputs and techniques and characterized by rapid increases in staple crop yields. However, today’s agricultural transformations will be much different. They have to contribute to multiple societal goals, including resilience, nutrition, youth employment, gender equity and many other aspects of country and global agendas, including the Sustainable Development Goals of ending extreme poverty and hunger. They do so in the face of headwinds such as low staple food prices that make it hard for smallholder staple food producers to escape poverty even with significant productivity increases, a demographic youth "explosion," deindustrialization and lengthening food supply chains that capture most of the consumer dollar in post-harvest activities. Smallholders who transform from subsistence farmers to commercial agriculturalists themselves become increasingly reliant on food markets to access affordable and nutritious diets. The entire transformation process is complexifying exponentially.
To deal with this increasingly complex development process, coordinated action by all stakeholders is required. The usual economic mechanisms — spot markets, contingent contracts, vertical integration — are not fully sufficient to coordinate this effort. Coordinated action requires a plan or other guiding document, transparent and specific commitments to the plan by stakeholders and accountability for responsible execution of these commitments.
What are the components of mutual accountability?
As being implemented in African agriculture, there are four essential components of an agricultural mutual accountability process:
Country ownership of an agreed plan for accelerating inclusive agricultural growth and related societal goals.
Voluntary, transparent and verifiable commitments by all stakeholders to take actions consistent with stakeholder missions and contributory to the plan.
Responsible execution of individual commitments and verifiable reporting on such execution.
Joint responsibility to ensure that the portfolio of commitments is sufficient to make meaningful progress towards plan goals and achieve targets.
How is mutual accountability implemented?
Mutual accountability is implemented through continental, regional and country processes, as well as through grassroots processes. At the country level, the five-year National Agricultural Investment Plans serve as the guiding plan and a business plan or similar document is needed to enumerate commitments. These plans should be developed inclusively, and commitments should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound (SMART). Also, at the country level, the annual joint sector review (JSR) is both an accountability mechanism to ensure that commitments are executed responsibly and a report on the progress in the sector. Regional economic communities also use investment plans and JSRs as key mutual accountability tools. At the continental level, the Biennial Review is the critical tool. The Biennial Review is based on national JSRs and provides a comprehensive scorecard that examines progress across countries.
But mutual accountability can also happen at the grassroots level, when groups of concerned stakeholders get together to find a common solution to specific problems. For example, accessing improved inputs may require policy commitments by governments, quality and timeliness commitments by input providers, financing commitments by lenders and repayment commitments by smallholders. Inability to execute any one of these commitments can lead to failure of the entire input industry — hence the need for mutual accountability.
Mutual accountability is just making an appearance on the scene. There is much to learn in its implementation, but it also has the potential to make progress against problems that have previously been seen as intractable. Mutual accountability helps open the possibility of unlocking Africa’s potential for rapid, inclusive, agriculture-led growth that will enable the next generation of Africans to live food-secure lives.
Stay tuned for more on mutual accountability later in Agrilinks Policy Month!