“How to multiply project success”– Highlights of podium discussion
The 2014 Biovision Symposium included a podium discussion between Manuel Sager, Director of SDC, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, Hans Herren from Biovision and Professor Chinwe Ifejika Speranza from the University of Bonn: the theme of the discussion, which was moderated by Africa expert Ruedi Küng, was “How to multiply project success”. In his introduction, Ruedi referred to a criticism often heard in the context of development cooperation. Many people assume that the absence of tangible results means that such work is a complete waste of time. Manuel Sager took a more nuanced approach. Many projects in recent years have been very successful. However, with complex projects it is often impossible to provide politicians and society with evidence of tangible results. Sager went on to say that it would be dangerous if that were taken as grounds for limiting development cooperation to situations that were totally free from risk and where success could be guaranteed. Hans Herren supported this view and also pointed out that perseverance, patience and a long-term approach are prerequisites for tangible outcomes. It should also be realized that quick fixes are often unsustainable.
Sager fully endorsed the principle of “Help for self-help” that is at the heart of Biovision projects. In his view – and this view is shared by others at SDC – NGOs can be extremely useful catalysts. They can influence politicians and governments and so bolster their commitment to development work. Sager also maintained that we must remain in dialogue even with our critics. In terms of whether to focus on quantity or quality, Professor Speranza was very clear: “We actually produce enough food. Why should we produce even more when much of what we produce is spoiled or discarded?” What we actually need are improvements in food distribution. This is complicated both socially and politically and so we take the easy option and simply call for an increase in production. That is neither sustainable nor a solution, argued Speranza.
For some time, agribusiness has treated Africa as if it were an emerging market, a development that Hans Herren views with some unease as industries often initiate the “wrong projects”. Farmers are lured down the road of industrial farming and trapped into using artificial fertilizers, chemical pesticides and hybrid seeds. It would be far better to show farmers how they could produce enough food in sustainable ways with limited external resources and without damaging the environment. However, it’s the economy with its short-term profit mentality that dominates and this is to the detriment of sustainability. “Dialogue with agribusiness is like Teflon, nothing sticks,” said Herren.
Nevertheless, the private sector can make a contribution to sustainable development. “The role of the SDC is to help government create a basic framework that allows private companies to operate in developing countries and facilitates inward investment, said Sager, its Director.
In development cooperation – and all on the podium were in agreement here – it is particularly important to exert political pressure and talk to the right people in each and every sector. “Biovision encourages Push Pull not just through its local projects but also politically through its project Changing Course in Global Agriculture,” said Hans Herren. We can only succeed if we work with a wide range of institutions, policymakers in politics and industry and of course farmer and consumer representatives. We must do our utmost to encourage dialogue between those involved in research, advice and implementation - as Biovision is doing with its priority programme in Africa Farmer Communication.
“Switzerland is good role model for systems in both the public and private sectors. We need to demonstrate alternatives, particularly to the younger generation and support governments in developing countries in efforts to improve systems,” said Sager.
The panel was united in the view that multipliers are essential at all levels if successful projects are to spread and prevail. This requires good dialogue and cooperation between the public and private development sector, good governance and responsible business development. Not forgetting those who campaign for sustainable development.