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Many donor agencies are currently advocating reform and decentralization of government activities as a major component of institutional reform measures. However, decentralization concerns not only the transfer of functions and resources among different levels of government from central to subnational, but increasingly it also involves the transfer of decision making and resources from government to civil society and market agents. There is thus a need to emphasize ways in which governments, at both the central and local levels, can create an effective enabling environment for these activities to occur and this Sourcebook is a contribution to this approach.

When applied to agricultural support services, decentralization can be a complex and multi-faceted process. This Sourcebook is intended to provide a policy framework to assist policy analysts and policy makers in governments and donor agencies in deciding whether decentralization of particular services is desirable and, if so, what form or forms of decentralization are likely to be most appropriate in particular circumstances.

Much of the material for this Sourcebook, particularly that referring to specific support services, was collated by Mr. Romano Pantanali and FAO are extremely grateful for the effort he put into this exercise. The various Technical Divisions of FAO have also provided valuable information and advice, particularly on the specific agricultural support services. However, the author assumes full responsibility for the views expressed in the Sourcebook and what is written in the text should not be taken to represent the official FAO position on any particular topic. The Sourcebook also draws on the considerable literature on the relative roles of the public and private sectors in agricultural service provision generated by FAO, the World Bank and the Overseas Development Institute.

The first five chapters of the Sourcebook provide a general policy framework for analysing the decentralization process. Chapter 1 examines the background to the current interest in decentralization, explains the various forms decentralization can take and the potential benefits that can be derived from it. Chapter 2 examines some of the economic, political and organizational issues that relate to the decentralization decision. Chapter 3 emphasizes the fact that the ‘provision’ of any service can be disaggregated into component functions and that there is no need for the same sector, organization or level of governance to deliver them all. Nor need the same type of decentralization be used for each function. Thus a whole matrix of possible decentralization pathways are opened up. Chapters 4 and 5 provide a framework for actually implementing a reform process, stressing the options available and the need for a sequencing of the reform process. It is worth stressing that Chapter 4 starts by posing the question ‘Is there a case for reform?’ Decentralization is not a panacea for all agricultural support services and it certainly cannot solve the underlying problems of weak governance - indeed decentralization is usually much easier to achieve and is likely to be more successful in the presence of a strong central government.

Chapters 6 to 11 then apply the concepts and framework to specific support services - agricultural research, technology and advice, rural finance, input and equipment supply and crop marketing, veterinary services and water resource management. These have been chosen both for their importance and because, between them, they illustrate the wide range of factors that may need to be considered in the reform of specific services in the particular conditions of different countries. Although readers interested in a particular service may usefully move to that specific chapter after reading the first five chapters, a brief survey of other chapters may also prove beneficial for two reasons. First, each chapter highlights issues of particular concern to decentralization of that service and does not necessarily cover more general issues that may have been covered elsewhere. Second, much can be learned from reading about actions that would be inappropriate for a particular service.

Patently, it was not possible to cover all agricultural support services in this Sourcebook. Moreover, most of the emphasis is on the reform and decentralization of existing government services, rather than the equally important topics of methods of empowering civil society and individuals to assist in the provision of services. However, it is hoped that by obtaining a good appreciation of the underlying policy framework and a judicious reading of its application in Chapters 6 to 11, constructive ideas can be developed that can then be applied to assist in the appropriate decentralization of other agricultural support services.

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