Can be self-help still effective?

Since it was set up in 1998, Biovision has always advocated help for self-help. Is that principle still appropriate and can it be effective over the longer term?

Andreas Schriber, CEO Biovision

“Actions speak louder than words”, as the writer Erich Kästner so astutely observed. However, sustainable development and cooperation need more than just deeds; good intentions on their own are not enough. For example, any partnership approach to development must be based on a common understanding of the main fundamental issues: Who contributes what to which objective and why? In addition, it should not be about “donors” on the one hand and “aid recipients” on the other. Rather, beneficiaries should also be stakeholders.

Biovision has found this principle to work; any development project must be geared to actual needs and there must be a mutual willingness to cooperate. In line with its stated purpose, Biovision encourages and facilitates ecological development in specific regions and areas of activity where support, information, start-up funding or the transfer of know-how are needed.

Development aid is often pilloried

Examples of misguided development aid are often cited as reasons why public monies should be redirected from one pot to another. Scandals make for more exciting copy than reports on long-term, solid development work. Some people take great delight in writing about projects that misuse the label “development aid” in order to further the self-interests of donor countries or identify corrupt governments and collusion amongst donors and well-meaning aid that in reality has the opposite effect. Similarly, the increasing criticism by many African intellectuals is often based on such cases, e.g. the recent media reports on the words of the Senegalese writer and Africa expert Ken Bugul: “What is the use of wanting to help if the support does not reach those who need it?” Ken Bugul is right to ask this question. She is calling for a new approach to cooperation: “For me, the top priority is that the people themselves also have a responsibility and are empowered to help themselves,” she says.

Portrait of man and woman
Ken Bugul, combative Senegalese writer and Andreas Schriber, CEO Biovision.

Knowledge brings progress

Biovision has pursued a holistic approach for the last 20 years. Our development work is concentrated in Africa, a continent where 70 % of the population rely on agriculture for their livelihood. At the same time, most African countries – despite promises to the contrary – neglect this sector: The average annual investment by governments is 3 % – at variance with the declaration by the African Union of 10 %.

In many areas of Africa, young people have no prospects. There are many reasons for this but one is the lack of access to education and useful knowledge. Biovision is seeking to remedy this by investing in the preparation and dissemination of information and the development of reliable communication channels such as magazines and radio programmes for farmers and an online information service for farmers and agricultural advisers. Since it was set up in 1998, Biovision has always advocated help for self-help. Is that principle still appropriate and can it be effective over the longer term? Andreas Schriber, CEO Biovision Biovision is investing in local people and here the two-way flow of information is crucial: Farmers must be more than just the recipient of new knowledge. They have their own experiences and practical know-how, both of which must feed into the process to identify research topics.

The results of a scientific analysis of the long-term Biovision project in Tolay (Ethiopia) were revealing: Sociologists found that if individual interventions were carefully coordinated, the total effect was greater than the sum of the individual interventions; in other words, the whole was greater than the sum of its parts.

The priority projects of Biovision in the area of food security concentrate on the development and spread of ecological methods that are suitable for less-developed areas and improve living conditions. Through the targeted development of strong local partners we are helping to establish a bridge between research and practical application.

From farmer training to policy adviser

This interaction with competent partners has allowed Biovision to evolve. In addition to providing advice to farmers it now advises policymakers and its work includes the provision of information and advice to politicians, government officials, the private sector and farmer organisations. If Biovision is to enable rural populations in Africa to help themselves, the underlying framework must be right. Last but not least, there is also a great deal to be done at home: Switzerland has an enormous ecological footprint and we as a country must assume responsibility for this. If we are to achieve the aim of ending global hunger, we must all work together. We need to stop food waste and change our profligate patterns of consumption. We need to start at home. In this context, Kästner was quite right. Actions do speak louder than words.