Editorial (21.2)

We are in a time when many detractors of international development are regularly challenging the whole concept of development, including those who feel that international aid should be cut to avoid or reduce budget reductions in donor country’s domestic services. Meanwhile supporters of development assistance are also concerned both by recurrent failures to meet intended impacts, and that this is now being ‘exposed’ in the popular media and academic literature. It is therefore salutary to reflect on the wide range of activities actually covered by the term ‘development’. Even just this one issue of Development in Practice takes us through several very different approaches and sectors.

The breadth of activities described here illustrate why it is important to avoid trying to define development or development assistance too narrowly. It is also clear that the evidence base in favour of one type of approach to development over another is simply not there. There are some good examples in this issue of critical reviews of some very targeted and practical interventions designed to improve the lives of poor people. Articles such as that by Shaheen Akter and John Farrington illustrate how even a well-established, 20-year poultry programme has had to work within a complex situation of a changing economy, practical challenges and differing markets. Although overall there was much positive in this work, there were also still unanswered questions about the programme and ways it could be improved.

The article by Rebecca Barnes, David Rosser and Paul Brown sets out to look at the planning frameworks for rural water and sanitation development projects. They argue that if 30–60 per cent of all existing rural water supply systems are inoperative at any one time, this must reflect on weakness in the planning systems. Given this, they analyse several frameworks against the criteria they see as key in achieving an improved outcome for such projects. This damning statistic of failed water projects should also raise wider questions for us as to why projects in the water and sanitation sector are so difficult to get right. Is it because of the technical factors, or more complex factors, such as relationships and communication between different stakeholders, or the issue of pricing undermining sustainability if people either cannot afford to, or do not see the importance of, paying for water? Why are some sectors apparently easier to set up and be maintained – is it because they deliver people (education) or capital (microcredit) which are given a higher priority by poor rural people?

Capacity building is an issue in several of the articles, and their review of failings in many forms of capacity building leads Jayalaxshmi Mistry et al. to argue in favour of a problemled approach to capacity building as a way of enhancing adaptive capacities. This is compared to programmes, which merely transfer prescriptive technical knowledge. The article argues that in the context of the complexities of natural resource management, which almost by definition is permanently evolving, traditional capacity building is unable to help people cope when new issues inevitably arise.

Meanwhile, Pradeep Kumar Dash et al. argue in favour of both capacity building in the context of sustainable watershed management, allied with local knowledge and improved gender equality. This accompanies their argument that a wide range of groups need to be engaged with the discussion and action around watersheds, and that a gender perspective has often been missing from many such programmes.

We have two articles from different perspectives looking at capacity building in both governance and democracy programmes. In West Papua, Julius Ary Mollet, looks at the struggles of local government to deal with the major challenges to a province rich in mineral income but with a poor distribution of its benefits to its inhabitants. Different governors have regularly changed their policies and priorities, resulting in a failure to deal with major issues around the provision of education and health, as well as to encourage local economic development despite a theoretically high per capita GDP. This frustration is clearly echoed in the article on corruption and human rights in the Niger Delta, where again massive resources (in this case oil) have failed to have the impact they should. Ibaba Samuel Ibaba argues that the development failure in the Delta is in a large part because of corruption, which inhibits investment in basic services and other local development. As such, it is argued that corruption actually works against development and human rights, leading to increased conflict in the region.

In a related article, Gordon Cummings notes that in Cameroon NGOs neglected issues of governance for many years. When French and local NGOs engaged in a governance and democracy programme in Cameroon, their failure to agree the purposes and procedures of the programme led to conflicting interests, views and ultimately allowed for a misuse of funds. He argues that this opportunity did later lead to a more successful set of programmes, once NGOs and donors alike absorbed some of the lessons from the failure.

Three articles take different approaches to the growing debate about fair trade and corporate social responsibility. The first, by Amparo Merino and Carmen Valor, takes a critical look at Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and argue that the lack of an ‘ideological’ debate around CSR means that many initiatives fail to engage with what would need to happen for CSR to genuinely contribute to poverty eradication, rather than serve the shorter-term interests of companies.

The second, by Rie Makita, uses a case study from southern India to examine the pressures on rural producers to try to benefit from both fair trade and organic accreditation, which often overlap in western consumers’ perceptions, but may have quite different consequences on the ground. Farmers tried to cope with the product-based systems of fair trade and the productionunit basis of organic accreditation. Some were able to manage the costs and gains of both, whilst others made choices to engage with one or the other.

Finally, Hannah McDowell, John Humphreys and Jane Conlon look at a Fairtrade registration scheme, which sees the relations of production as being more appropriate for fashion goods rather than the more traditional systems used for agricultural products. They feel that by exposing the relations of production this helps identify other labour relationships, which need to be taken into account in addition to the traditional one of ensuring improved process for ‘producers’. These articles are reinforced by the Practical Note by John Gorlorwulu who argues that in the context of post-conflict Liberia, investment in financing and capacity building of local small businesses has a sustainable impact on creating jobs and rebuilding the local economy.

The Viewpoint by Maria Constanza Torri in this issue also relates to trade, as it looks at herbal medicine in India and discusses ways that this major traditional trade can improve the incomes of the poor rural inhabitants who tend to collect the herbs.