In a discussion session held by AMAN with agricultural institutions,
Special mechanisms to be adopted by relevant ministries and government bodies to promote values of integrity, principles of transparency, and systems of accountability in implementing programmes targeting the integration of women and youth in the agriculture sector
Ramallah – The Coalition for Accountability and Integrity (AMAN) held a discussion session, entitled The Reality of Integrity, Transparency, and Accountability in Institutions Running Programmes Targeting the Integration of the Youth and Women in the Agriculture Sector. The session aimed at contributing to making equitable policies, particularly for integrating the youth and women in as an important and vital production sector as agriculture in Palestine. Participants made recommendations to decision makers on challenges to integrity, transparency, and accountability in the management and objectives of integration programmes.
The Palestinian agriculture sector contributes less than 8 percent to GDP
The session began with a presentation of some facts about the agriculture sector. Over the past decades, the Palestinian agriculture sector GDP contribution has sharply declined from 36 percent in the 1970s to some 8 percent in 2000. Studies show that this contribution has dropped even further. While agricultural imports from Israel amounted to US$ 362 million, Palestinian agriculture sector exports to Israel were just US$ 64 million towards the end of 2017. This is a ratio of almost 6 to 1 in favour of the occupying State.
Increase in government development expenditure allocated to agriculture: not a quantum leap, but a positive step
Dr. Bader al-A’raj, a researcher, reviewed highlights of the report he had compiled for AMAN. According to Al-A’raj, the report is more like a survey, aimed at examining integrity, transparency, and accountability systems in agricultural programme management. Run by a number of relevant line ministries and government agencies, these programmes are tailored to integrate the youth and women in the Palestinian agriculture sector. This investigation was done against the backdrop of the Agriculture Cluster Plan announced in April 2019. In March 2021, the government also announced an increase in public budget allocations to the agriculture sector in general, and agricultural development projects in particular. Al-A’raj explored the extent to which government institutions have translated public approaches and policies into concrete reality. He also assessed the amount of budget expenditures allocated to develop the agriculture sector.
The rise in public budget spending on the agriculture sector was “mediocre”. The actual amount of budgeted agricultural expenditure was merely US$ 65.5 million, or less than 1.2 percent, in 2021. However, the fact that over a half of the agriculture budget line items were appropriated to development expenses was a positive development.
Mechanisms for promoting the values of integrity, transparency, and accountability in programmes to integrate the youth and women in the agriculture sector are still limited
The report demonstrates that government plans and strategies, first and foremost the Agriculture Sector Strategy 2021-2023, stress the importance of the values of integrity, principles of transparency, and systems of accountability. Clearly, however, practice shows that relevant line ministries and government bodies continue to use inadequate mechanisms in programmes, targeting the integration of the youth and women in the agriculture sector.
The report recommends that special mechanisms be adopted by relevant ministries and government agencies with a view to strengthening the values of integrity, principles of transparency, and systems of accountability in managing and implementing programmes to integrate the youth and women in the agriculture sector. These public institutions will not only rely on ordinary mechanisms and methods of operation.
Response to, and raising awareness of how to file, complaints
When necessary, the youth and women targeted by agricultural programmes and projects can resort to complaint units at relevant line ministries and government bodies. However, these units are in need of further development and activation in order to provide effective complaint handling. The report recommends that principles of transparency need to be rejuvenated, particularly within compliant units and in relation to complaint handling mechanisms. Regular information campaigns should be launched to introduce the youth and women to these mechanisms as well as to the steps that need to be taken to file a complaint.
A code of professional conduct for agricultural workers should be developed
The report also recommends that a code of professional conduct for the staff of government-run agricultural programmes. To target financing and support initiatives in particular, the code will provide detailed guidance on how to deal with the youth and women. Interaction should be professional, impartial, and without any form of discrimination or bias. The code of professional conduct will outline applicable procedures in the event of conflicts of interest.
Efforts should be coordinated and information exchanged between agricultural stakeholders
Engineer Ahlam Odeh, Director of the Civil Society Organisations Department at the Ministry of Agriculture, commented that efforts between the institutions working in support of the agriculture sector were fragmented. The National Employment Strategy and Youth Cross-cutting Strategy processes are poorly coordinated. Mr. Jamal Mubaslat, representative of the Economic and Social Development Centre of Palestine, stated that 16 institutions were active in the agriculture sector. However, there is no information flow between these organisations.
Double the incentives is needed to overcome the challenge of young people’s reluctance to work in the agriculture sector
Engineer Omar al-Titi, representative of the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, made a presentation on challenges to the youth and women’s willingness to work in the agriculture sector. In addition to employment inside Israel, a partisan attitude of some institutions wards off the youth and women from engaging in the agriculture sector. Also, mechanisms for protection of agriculture are unsecured as the sector lacks genuine support. The cost for undertaking an agricultural enterprise is excessively high since proceeds are so unrewarding to proceed with that enterprise. Al-Titi stressed that incentives should be provided to make the agriculture sector more desirable for the youth and women. Investment is also needed so that they build expertise.
Control is poor and the imbalance is top-down
Ms. Haneen Zeidan, representative of the Rural Women’s Development Society, indicated that the concept of the Palestinian countryside was not like it used to be earlier. A national plan, rather than random individual interventions, is needed to develop the agriculture sector. The imbalance is caused by the public policy, which embraces the free-market system. This has failed to protect national products, particularly agricultural produce, further discouraging the youth from working the land.
Ms. Lora Alajmeh, representative of the Ma’an Development Centre, explained that the problem lied with control over production inputs, including pesticides, needed equipment, and smugglers on the market. This reflects a gap in the role and functions of the Customs Police.