Global Donor Platform for Rural Development
Godesberger Allee 119 | 53175 Bonn | Germany
phone: +49 228 249 341 65
fax: +49 228 249 342 15
Christoph Kohlmeyer, Ph.D., says agricultural policies must make sense. His speeches pointing out the many ways they don’t are met sometimes with a barrage of eggs and tomatoes from angry farmers in his native Germany. But 25 years spent in rural development, from grass-roots work in Africa and Asia to ministerial headquarters at home, have earned the agricultural economist a reputation for imperturbable diplomacy on behalf of donor cooperation. Dr. Kohlmeyer spoke with Timothy Nater in Bonn.
Kohlmeyer: Most of our rural policies are anything but right. They’re just not working, whether for our small farmers or for the rural populations of developing countries, where about 70% of all the world’s poor still live.
I’m a great believer in coherence. There is no coherence in agricultural policy today, either in rich or in poor countries.
Farm subsidies in rich countries have two negative consequences for trade. The first is that rich countries have to keep trade barriers against food imports high in order to maintain their own high internal market prices.
But my biggest objection is that subsidies are also spent on exporting food on the world market. That gives our produce a 20% price advantage. Many developing countries can’t compete. They find it cheaper to buy our farm products on world markets than to invest in producing the same goods themselves. Their farmers are disconnected from their own domestic markets. Farmers don’t farm, roads aren’t built, rural areas remain impoverished, the vicious cycle continues. For the last 20 years or so, developing-country governments have preferred to tax agriculture rather than invest in it, and we donors have bowed to their priorities.
It’s truly perverse: global donors today are handing out more money on food aid and hunger relief than on promoting agriculture itself. The impact on local farm prices is ruinous. And this state of affairs will worsen until we start putting money back into agriculture again. If we go on with business as usual, we’ll never reach Millennium Development Goal I, namely halving the number of hungry people in the world by 2015. We have to get a whole lot better at our business if we still want to win this race against time.
Donors persist in their flag-planting attitudes. We’ve been particularly guilty of this, producing a patchwork of small rural development ‘islands’, with no broader impact. The net result was fruitless competition and government confusion in partner countries.
Of course, we can’t ignore reality: each donor agency has to go back to their respective funding sources or legislators every year to convince them of the value and usefulness of what they're doing. For example, Germany’s parliamentary budget committees want to see projects clearly marked ‘Made in Germany’, and that's understandable, given the need to show taxpayers how their money is being spent.
But we can still meet that need even when, for instance, Germany, France and the World Bank negotiate as one donor, as a single team, with partner-countries.
Here’s where the Global Donor Platform comes in. Our work on the new modalities of aid can provide us with a shared, common empirical and analytical basis to devise the right approaches and then talk to governments as a united group and say, “Here’s how we propose to do it.” This is essentially a policy dialogue, and the Platform is perfectly suited to do it, because we donors have real impact when we put this message out as a united group.
We donors have all got our own management structures and cultures, each with our different rules and demands. The result is that we’re often too heavily wrapped up in our own affairs, administering our own separate inputs and devising ever-more onerous reporting requirements, instead of agreeing on the most efficient ways of working together in support of our partner-countries.
The solution is so simple and so obvious that we tend to overlook it. What counts are the principles of any good marriage: transparency and dialogue. And this is where the Global Donor Platform is making daily progress. We’re building mutual trust — that’s a basic condition for continually improving ways of working together. I’m delighted to see that we’re all starting to agree that what really counts is aid effectiveness. And the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness in March, 2005, provides us with backing at the highest level for our pilot-project work on donor harmonisation and alignment in rural development. The Global Donor Platform is well-positioned to make important contributions here.
To start with, more advocacy on behalf of our mission. It's precisely the rural poor who are least able to draw attention to themselves and have almost no-one to speak for them. This is a role the Platform must play. Our joint paper, The role of agriculture and rural development in achieving the Millennium Development Goals, has already had some impact, and we will follow up with lots more.
Twenty-six donors speaking out in unison is hugely more significant than each donor doing it separately. As we learn to communicate our message more professionally, our success in getting political decision makers to rethink things will only grow. Our group has natural authority. We must bring that to bear, also by adding our voice more forcefully to the debate on agricultural policy coherence that I spoke earlier about.
Even then, as the doors to more effective rural and agricultural development start to open again, we won’t have much time to start demonstrating success and concrete results. First of all, we must devise common strategies and consensus on methods and entry points, as well as agreement on which policies work and which don’t. Second, we have to learn how to cooperate better, to trust each other and to utilise the Platform’s comparative advantage in a targeted way.
Take agricultural extension. We argued throughout the 1990s amongst ourselves for more than ten years about the right approach, thus depriving our partner countries of their right to decide for themselves while at the same time forcing through a bunch of competing approaches that rarely lasted very long because these countries had no ownership of them. That was a lost decade for agricultural advisory systems, and, in many countries today, there’s nothing left of them anymore.
For me, the work of the Neuchâtel Initiative is a great example of how to do things better: Based on a set of principles on transparency and client-orientation for country-by-country adaptation, this group came out with a modern, cutting-edge, participatory approach to rural extension. There’s growing consensus around these things now. Rural development is chock-full of difficult issues and policies that can only show progress if we start elaborating principles, strategies and methods together and in cooperation with relevant parties in developing countries. This is how we in the Global Donor Platform intend to go about formulating our Joint Donor Rural Concept.
Actively learning from Global Donor Platform’s pilot projects in Nicaragua, Burkina Faso, Tanzania and Cambodia means feeding the lessons learned back into our membership’s operations. My vision is that, in these four countries and in two years time, we donors will already be acting as a single development partner, wholeheartedly supporting our partner countries’ strategies.
But this also means seizing the opportunities emerging from the new aid architecture and putting them to efficient use. Our joint research projects on the rural focus of poverty-reduction strategies and sector-wide approaches to rural development will sharpen our understanding of the most effective and efficient levers to apply to accelerate our advance in the battle against poverty and hunger in rural areas.
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