More than just a Southern feeling
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CTA. 2003. More than just a Southern feeling. Spore 103. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
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Many agricultural economies in the South share a lack of opportunity and a demeaning dependence on aid flows and far-from-fair trade. But can you count on your Southern partner more than your Northern?The dugout pirogue boat swung gently around...
Many agricultural economies in the South share a lack of opportunity and a demeaning dependence on aid flows and far-from-fair trade. But can you count on your Southern partner more than your Northern? The dugout pirogue boat swung gently around another bend of the creek in the mangrove, a few dozen kilometres south of the port of Ziguinchor in the steamy green province of Casamance in southern Senegal. Around, above, below it, as it stole its way under the branches of the dangling bushes, were swarms of insects, butterflies, colourful birds, darting fishes; in it, one tillerman, one lad quietly whistling, and three very excited people, their heads bobbing faster than the birds drilling at nuts on a nearby tree. They swapped knowing looks, whispered into a recording machine, jotted illegible scribbles into notebooks with squares. They had never seen paper with squares instead of lines. They spoke to their guide, who had travelled far from home with them; she translated their wishes to the young French-speaking guide who translated to his brother at the tiller. The boy entertained them all with whistling birdsong, to entice more birds to fly near. After four hours, they moored at their host village and, once rested, began to record their findings, which would astonish their families and friends when they returned home to their village on the coastal plain of Guatemala, in central America. They were discovering the similarities in the ecosystems in which they lived: the similarities of flora and fauna, the different medicinal uses their different wise doctors had for the same plants. If only all rural communities could share their knowledge with such ease, they mused, how much progress could be achieved. This exchange visit between farmers of two villages a hemisphere apart took place a generation ago, in 1982, when the dead leaves of jargon lay thinner on the ground than today. It was arranged through a network which brought together Southern NGOs and like-minded Northern support agencies and donors. It was seen as a wonderful illustration of South-South exchange of indigenous knowledge. But was it little more than the sharing by different peoples of what they have in common, for their separate gain? In the beginning, the exchange The ideal of South-South cooperation was born with the concept of the South . That cooperation has, of course, existed for thousands of years, usually driven by trade. Trade has always been the major vector for the transfer of ideas and technology around the globe on which agricultural development has always depended, as acknowledged in the South-South approach central to FAO s Special Programme for Food Security (SPFS). The South existed before the South . The concept was defined, perhaps paradoxically, by schools of thought in the temperate North, emerging in the 1960s through some slight anguish about a recent past as colonial rulers. The South, so it was said in the North, was an amalgam of cultures and economies; its prime commonalities were a colonial past under European tutelage, and a conviction that their share of the world s resources and opportunities was meagre. Gradually, the South has assumed its own identity, expressed more in cultural and social exchange than in shared economic power. By the 1980s, the South had institutionalised itself: the South Commission, led by President Julius Nyerere, ushered in the South Centre, based in Geneva, Switzerland. To this day it aggressively defends the South with the only tool at its disposal: rhetoric. An example, from 2002: 'At a time when the developing countries are showered with do-it-yourself prescriptions and sermons about good governance, they are being told to swim in the turbulent waters of the international economic environment without a lifebelt or even a few drops of oil to calm the waters and make their task easier.' What works well Behind the waterfalls of words, what grounds are there for genuine South-South cooperation? The past two decades have seen many experiments and successes, ranging from village-to-village swaps of farmers to inter-regional networks of scientists and processors in, for example, herbal medicine. The recent review of FAO s SPFS programme, through which several hundred agricultural technicians have left their home countries for 2 to 3 years to work elsewhere as experts from Vietnam to Madagascar, from India to Eritrea finds that they have effectively brought 'skills and practical experience relevant to the local scene, with a multiplier effect'. The major shortcoming of such exchanges is that, externally funded in part, they have not taken root easily in national agricultural programmes. Similar comments about high local impact and low national integration can be made about the Technical Cooperation among Developing Countries (TCDC) activities of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) which, over 20 years, has enabled thousands of skill swaps. Interestingly, the TCDC programme now appears to focus less on the exchange of actual people, and much more on the exchange of experiences through the Internet. People-to-people exchanges do not necessarily have to carry the relatively high price tag of the international agencies. Various NGO networks such as IRED (the international network for development exchange), or Environment Development Action (ENDA), or Development Alternatives have enabled the exchange of village craftsmen, farmers and women entrepreneurs between continents. At a technically more sophisticated level, there are commercially successful exchanges of plant managers in agro-food industries, such as those facilitated by the African Management Services Company supported by the World Bank group. Go with the flow, people Trickle-up, top-down, side-to-side, hand-to-hand, Internet link up; no matter the form such exchanges have taken, there has always been an element of subsidisation or commercial self-interest. When external funding is not available, these exchanges have to follow some economic rules. When companies cooperate for example, when a Brazilian agricultural machinery enterprise is helping to establish a similar company in West Africa they have to be protected to some extent from the winds of competition, whether from the steamrolling North or low-cost Asian industrial states. The enabling environment for South-South cooperation is complex: export guarantees, insurance, favourable duties and tarifs, fiscal incentives, market protection, patents, co-ownership, no competition agreements All such measures date from the 1960s and 1970s, just as the concept of the South does. At the beginning of the 21st century, as the world stumbles towards various modes of globalisation with a decent, but not stunning, degree of regulation to pare down the sharp ends, such steps are simply not going to be allowed. The old school soldiers on: when the Group of 77 (the world s 126 developing countries) in Dubai in October 2002 set up a South-South Science and Technology network, it inevitably called for other countries to fund it. Have they not seen the writing on the wall that says where there is no donor ? The climate in which old-style South-South cooperation could thrive has gone. To borrow a phrase from an explorer from another age who knew his time was up, it may be gone for quite some time. There is a new, harsher climate. A leading thinker on Southern science in practice, Calestous Juma, sums it up: 'In such a climate, reliance on public institutions as the main vehicle for technical cooperation provides little prospect for success. Yet in many developing countries, government and industry maintain mutual antagonism and suspicion despite the fact that a country s comparative advantage today depends largely on the degree to which the two cooperate. A South-South cooperation model cannot be justified on the basis of proximity, or membership of the same economic bloc. Strategic alliances need to be forged, irrespective of their geographical location.' Indeed so. Or, go with the flow. Twenty years after that exchange between Casamance and Guatemala, two of its enablers met again, at the Caribbean Herbs Business Forum in December 2002 in Jamaica. Institutions made the exchange possible, but two South-South people made it happen, and made it last. [caption to illustration] New world visions, new solutions. It s not a dream, as banana scientists from Costa Rica and West Africa could tell you. [summary points] South-South agricultural cooperation requires: recognition that many effective exchanges have a commercial motivation people-to-people exchanges to ensure sensitive transfer of knowledge better integration with national systems linkages based on content, not symbolism
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