Agri inputs market reform in Liberia through the PDIA lens

Guest blog by Darkina Sie Cooper

This is a blog series written by the alumni of the Implementing Public Policy Executive Education Program at the Harvard Kennedy School. Participants successfully completed this 6-month online learning course in December 2020. These are their learning journey stories.

I was super excited signing up for the Implementing Public Policy (IPP) Online Program, especially haven completed the Leading Economic Growth (LEG) program and being introduced to the PDIA concept and meeting already Prof. Matt Andrews and seeing how amazing he is; I was also eager to dive deeper into the PDIA concept and was looking forward to approaching my problem differently. Given that the IPP is 6 months long, I was particularly looking forward to additional tools and a more dynamic approach in solving my policy challenge. Looking to develop the tools to pitch my ideas and gain buy-in from authorizers were among my many expectations. I was also extremely excited looking forward to meeting more amazing professors and drinking from their fountain of knowledge. Certainly, the course didn’t disappoint, all these were provided for in the long but insightful journey of learning on the go. But above all these, and most importantly, I remain ever thankful to the Kistofes Fellowship of the HKS for allowing me to join not only an amazing program but meeting an amazing group of people from all over the world, from diverse background, sharing their stories; all these couldn’t have been possible and could have only been one of those many exciting dreams if not for you. A million thanks, I am humble!

It has been an interesting journey in the IPP course and some of the key ideas/learnings taken away from this 6 months trip surpasses the academics of the subject matter and point to once own life journey – how we perceived and approach our problems. Moving away from a state of perceiving that there is a linear process to solving every problem to the state of complexity and the “world of the unknowns”. This of course was the mind changer for me. The course itself was an astonishing opener from the very start; Prof. Matt Andrews and the PDIA concept of solving a policy challenge – understanding and constructing the problem, deconstructing the problem by use of the fishbone diagram, finding an entry point using the ‘3 As’, testing out other solutions, iterating to find out what works and why, what didn’t, and learning relentlessly as you progress, were among my most important captured on this trip. Other exciting topics included; Prof. Rob Wilkinson on the 4Ps of leadership – where we argue that leadership is not about position but rather purpose; and the 3- dimensional view of a leader – Taking risks on behalf of things you care about, disappointing others at a rate they can absorb, and Mobilizing others to take risks with you. Prof. Monica Higgins on Leadership and Teaming; gaining trust using the Trust Triangle. The Trust Triangle has been a key adapted tool for me and I have been using it most often – gaining trust through authenticity, being logical, and having empathy.

These valuable lessons have given me a better perspective through an iterative journey in addressing my policy challenge – in Liberia, farmers produce low crop yields at high costs, limiting income, production, and competitiveness for Liberia’s agricultural industry on the whole. One of the main reasons for low productivity is the lack of affordable, quality agro-inputs like seeds and fertilizers that underpin farm performance. These sector challenges are being constraint by limited capacity, lack of understanding, and appreciation of the agri-inputs market by both the Ministry of Agriculture and private sector actors to develop a sustainable agriculture inputs supply chain. Also constraining is the high import duties that discourage investment from larger agro-inputs distributors and agribusinesses that would be in a position to build distribution channels in Liberia; I can now safely say that trough our effort of building a good team, delegating task as see fit, presenting the problem as convincing as possible to gain by-in from authorizers, and finding the ideal entry points through an iterative process, the Government of Liberia has signed into law Executive Order # 102 – tax exemption on the importation of Agriculture Inputs, the forming of a National Technical Committee on Agriculture Inputs, the appreciation of the importance of agriculture inputs – fertilizers, pesticides, and seeds, by the Ministry of Agriculture and the Government at large, among others.

Giving all that I have acquired over the past 6 months, I now have a better perspective on how to think through and construct a problem, knowing that there is a world of unknowns out there and needs to be considered in solving our policy challenge; what the problem looks like in its constructive phase, what it looks like when deconstructed, where to seek and whose authorization is needed in solving the challenge, where to start and who are the people needed in solving the problem along an iterative journey with you. This has been a journey of action learning on the go – testing out solutions and adopting new strategies as new lessons are learned while trying out again new storages, again and again, till you reach a reasonable solution in solving your problem. My takeaway is that life itself is an iterative journey – learning on the go and that PDIA is a way of life, that will live on forever as we journey life. As I look forward to applying all the tools in finding different problem solutions, I am indeed grateful and appreciative in recognizing the huge contribution to all the professors and support staff in making my journey of iterative learning a success – you all are the real CHAMP!

Learn more about the Implementing Public Policy (IPP) Community of Practice and visit the course website to apply.

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