Governments play an important role in sustaining economic growth, regulating markets, increasing levels of employment and reducing inequalities. To move forward productively, policymakers need to strategically assess and address a broad spectrum of issues, from regulatory frameworks and competition policies to the investment environment and labour market flexibility. These issues need to be considered within the context of demographic shifts and structural changes, such as the rise of service industries. Addressing these challenges is a complex task but governments that act now are likely to have a competitive advantage, both regionally and globally.
Heavily linked with economic growth is the question of regulation. Striking the correct balance regarding the level of regulation (or de-regulation) is important in enabling sustainable economic growth, and growth that also takes account of social, environmental and other factors. The use of different regulatory instruments and compliance mechanisms is further an area to be examined.
Agriculture and the rural communities that sustain this key industry are facing unprecedented challenges across the world. Globalisation of the food chain, for example, has intensiﬁed competition and heightened the risk of this chain being contaminated by disease, while population migration to urban areas is threatening the socio-economic fabric and potential of rural areas. The impact of environmental degradation should also not be forgotten. But where there are challenges there are also opportunities.
Although there are pressures on agriculture and rural communities that need to be immediately addressed, policymakers can also seize this moment to deﬁne a new, more dynamic future for these national assets.
Human Dynamics’ in-depth experience in agriculture and rural issues places us in a strong position to develop smart, pragmatic solutions.
What mechanisms should be introduced to stimulate greater investment in businesses? And in which sectors? Does the country have the capability to innovate and grow rapidly in a particular ﬁeld? More critically, are the labour market structures and skills in place to support investment growth and innovation?
Creating a level playing ﬁeld is essential for stimulating competition. Business transaction costs also have to be reduced, for example by streamlining businesses relationships with government, including reporting requirements. Managed correctly, these and other steps can signiﬁcantly sharpen national businesses’ efﬁciency, the quality of their service, and their ability to compete internationally.
Small- to medium-size enterprises (SMEs) account for up to 90% of employment growth in many countries. What ﬁnancial incentives, support and special policy measures, such as lighter reporting requirements, should be introduced to create new SMEs as well as foster existing ones? Particular care should also be taken to nurture service industries, which are the engines of growth in many countries. Again, human skills are vital in such industries.
Striking the right balance between encouraging business and protecting economic stability and customers is one of the greatest challenges when formulating regulatory frameworks. The needs of all stakeholders, from consumers and businesses to public agencies, must be taken into account, assessed and weighted. Potential regulatory frameworks should also be benchmarked against those in comparable ﬁelds, nationally and internationally. In addition, codes of best practice and guidelines for conforming to the regulations should be developed.
Unnecessarily high regulatory compliance costs for businesses not only deter new entrants into the market, stiﬂing competition but can also lead to businesses ‘slipping under the net’ to avoid these additional costs. Administrative burdens of compliance should be assessed and streamlined without compromising the regulations’ efﬁcacy, and adapted to different sectors. ‘Covenant light’ options for small businesses and priority sectors should be explored.
Regulations are only as strong as the surveillance systems that underpin them. Systems should be established to monitor both individual breaches and aggregate trends that could indicate a need to revise the strategic thrust of the regulations, supported by training. Equally importantly, both the regulations and any penalties for breaches need to be frequently and clearly communicated, both to enhance compliance and to instil public trust in the relevant regulated industries.
Recent international outbreaks of animal diseases such as avian ﬂu and swine ﬂu have highlighted both the fragility and inter-connected nature of the global food chain. Countries can no longer treat animal welfare and disease control as a national issue; international vigilance is required. Systems need to be established to monitor potential sanitary and phytosanitary risks, nationally and internationally, and modern, best-practice animal husbandry applied to safeguard animals, underpinned by appropriate training and regulatory frameworks. Guidelines, surveillance systems and other mechanisms also have to be established to ensure both the safety of animal feed stocks and the responsible use of veterinary medicines for preventing and controlling animal diseases.
Consumers are increasingly informed about food safety and alert to transgressions, thanks to the power of the Internet and other communication channels. Any breach of safety can swiftly have a negative impact on suppliers and, by implication, rural communities. To instil conﬁdence, it’s essential to establish well-regulated and consistent food inspection systems; appropriate training and best-practice sanitary and phytosanitary guidelines for inspectors will be required. Risks of residual pesticides in foods should also be evaluated and safer alternatives explored. Equally importantly, correct and uniform guidelines for labelling and packaging must be in place, supported by public awareness campaigns, consumer helplines and other tools.
Markets for agricultural products, especially those with strong export potential, should be systematically and critically analysed, taking into account distribution constraints. Particular attention should be paid to high-growth, value-added export markets, without compromising the domestic supply of staples. In line with long-term trends, sustainable organic produce should be investigated, supported by appropriate legislation to conform to international regulations. Any consideration of genetically engineered produce must involve a careful analysis of the relative risks and rewards.
Socio-economic mapping of rural communities, supported by data from relevant local and central government departments, is necessary to identify relative strengths and weaknesses between these communities. Strategies, policies and resources – ﬁnancial, institutional and human resources – should be developed to support the communities’ economic and social regeneration, on a prioritised basis. Options might range from supporting family farming to encouraging alternative businesses such as tourism, to strengthening distribution channels and logistics, and devising ﬁnancial incentives for environmentally friendly crops. As always, training and guidelines will be required. Benchmarking proposed solutions against international experiences is also advisable.
Forestry management is vital, both for establishing commercially sustainable wood harvesting and processing capabilities and, from an environmental perspective, for capturing carbon emissions. Strategies should be designed, and resources dedicated to, forestry management. Forestry assets should also be valued to assess the cost-beneﬁt of any developments that involve deforestation. Wildlife should be managed in a similar way.