Should traditional donors be interfering in South-South cooperation?

South-South cooperation is now establishing itself as an accepted tool in the development box.  And, we will need every tool in the box – including new kinds of partnerships – if we are collectively to tackle tough global development challenges at the pace and scale required, including:

  • the agricultural productivity challenge – although growth in agriculture can be more inclusive and effective at reducing poverty than growth in any other sector, the rate of productivity growth has stagnated in many countries where its contribution is needed the most;
  • the challenge of food and nutrition security – in Africa, around one in three of the population does not have adequate access to food and nutrition, despite the agricultural potential of the continent;
  • the challenge of climate change and variability, which threatens to reinforce problems of low productivity and hunger in a way that hits poor people hardest.

To face inter-related challenges like these, established development actors like DFID need to work in new innovative ways, together with new actors who offer a different set of tools and partnership opportunities.

DFID is starting to get this.  That’s why we’re working with partners like China and Brazil for impact in third countries, because we are relentless in our pursuit of better ways to tackle poverty.  And because we think these countries have some powerful tools that have considerable potential for successful adaptation in other countries.

My colleagues in Beijing are working to improve food security in Africa using Chinese knowledge and technologies. My colleagues in Delhi and Pretoria are also looking at ways in which expertise and experience can be shared outside their borders. And building on the success of DFID’s support to the Africa-Brazil Agricultural Innovation Marketplace, I’m excited to be taking forward a new programme to validate and adapt Brazilian agricultural and food security innovations in African countries that hope to share Brazil’s success.

Brazil has demonstrated remarkable success and impact on growth and poverty reduction, including by transforming its agriculture on soils that Nobel Laureate Norman Borlaug once famously concluded were ‘unfit for farming’.  Soils, in fact, like those found in many parts of Africa.  Fortunately, Brazil ignored the gloomy prognosis and proceeded to demonstrate that productivity is possible, even under challenging conditions.

This raises a simple credibility issue.  If you want to boost cassava production in Kenya, you want an expert from, say, Bahia, Brazil rather than Birmingham, Britain. For the record, I have nothing against the fine people of Birmingham per se, it’s just that they can’t claim to be the finest exponents of tropical agriculture in the world. Whereas the Brazilians can.

But we do believe that there is a role for an actor like DFID to support south-south processes.  Because that’s what our partners tell us.  While we do not condone interference, we do support the idea of constructive engagement, and in supporting when we’re asked to do so.

In our new Africa-Brazil Partnership on Climate-Smart Development and Food Security, our partners want to see DFID contribute to:

  • an accelerated response to the growing demand from African countries for Brazilian expertise;
  • support and advice to partnerships led by Brazilian and African institutions;
  • enhanced focus on results and impact;
  • strong knowledge tools to ensure that lessons are learned from what has gone before, Brazilian innovations are appropriately adaptation to context, and evidence is continuously use to refine the approach;
  • a sharper focus on climate-smart development, to sustainably boost productivity and build resilience to climatic risks.

Brazil does not have all the answers. Last week’s speakers – echoed by Lídia Cabral’s blog in this series – discussed how the Brazilian agricultural transformation did not achieve perfect results for every possible development outcome. But then, neither did the Industrial Revolution in England.

Such analysis and debate is part of good, healthy development practice.  It helps us to raise our game, refine our approach and continue to innovate.  And if we are to tackle tough development challenges, we need to seek out the best solutions and partners, whether from north or south. Because, in our increasingly inter-connected world, we’re all in it together.

Dan Bradley is DFID’s Climate and Development Adviser in Brazil.
Picture: SSC Seminar – Opening Session 02 by International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth on Flickr