Editorial (21.6)

In the current context, when so many policies on international development are changing significantly, it is challenging to write an editorial which may quickly become dated. As I write, we see development ministers across Europe turning their backs on policies such as budget support, the principles behind the Paris Declaration, and co-funding for international NGOs. In their place we see the re-introduction of new conditionalities; a focus on short-term ‘results’; and a reduced list of priorities, such as security and basic welfare. Some policies are being dumped, or adopted, in line with political changes rather than as the result of serious evidence-based reviews.

Policies which have not yet even been fully evaluated are being side-tracked or (quietly) dropped because development ministers wish to avoid public statements undermining processes their governments have already agreed upon. The right of politicians to change policies is not in dispute. Indeed, many areas of public life beyond international development are vulnerable to about turns, and the sudden introductions of new policies, practices and priorities. However, we still have to question whether the current obsession with evidence, results and evaluations is as genuine as claimed when decisions seem to be made on the basis of a political position rather than real evidence. Such questions over the real links between evidence and policy are a concern to Development in Practice, which seeks to share actual experiences and evaluations, and therefore to inform political decision makers.

In this issue we have, as always, a range of impressive and diverse experiences of development. Increasingly we are seeing examples of ‘development’ interventions which come from outside of the traditional aid industry, although as Kiikpoye K. Aaron notes in his viewpoint on the oil-rich Niger Delta, the current interest in corporate social responsibility must be tested against the possible inherent conflict between profit-seeking and sustainable development. Radhika Gajjala et al . look at another alternative form of intervention – the growth of online micro-finance programmes. They analyse one such online network, Kiva.org, which has lent US$78 million to 180,000 people in 45 countries and claims a repayment rate of 98%. Such person-to-person lending, along with person-to-person grant making, looks set to be an important area to continue to monitor in future. Whether it supersedes the costly old model which uses aid workers, agencies, structures, and their procedures as middle men is yet to be seen.

We have a few articles which capture learning from the struggle to find ways of engaging small-scale farmers to increase their production and incomes. Paul Van Mele et al . review two programmes with West African rice farmers and try to identify some of the reasons why the programmes turned out differently in Ghana and Mali. They point out that the tendency of the Malian programme to encourage more innovation may have been because the programme was run by NGOs with consistent staff members, with a greater emphasis on the principle of innovation, and more input from farmers themselves than in Ghana, where changing staff from government and research agencies placed more emphasis on fulfilling set programme activities. Anna-Katharina Hornidge et al ., looking at farmer innovation in Uzbekistan, note the problems of encouraging a culture of innovation in the context of a state which tries to involve itself in the details of agricultural production using ‘Soviet era’ approaches and command structures to decide what should be grown where, when and how. Despite this centralised form of agriculture, however, the article records the flowering of farmer-based agricultural innovation.

Oscar Forero reviews two examples from Latin America on the use of digital technology for the sustainable use of natural resources in line with indigenous rights, and argues that it is the way the technology is used which determines whether the outcome is positive, irrelevant or negative. The examples support the views that new technologies require ground-level participation, and that attention should be paid to ownership of digitally-generated resources, if they are to result in the promised effects.

Two articles examine microfinance. The first, by Theeraphong Bualar, discovered that the widespread Village Development Fund in Thailand has tended not to be distributed to disabled women because local people did not believe that these women could run small businesses. Thus more work is needed to be done to change local attitudes to disabled women before they are able to benefit from this national programme. Ana Pantelić compares experiences of cash transfers and microfinance in Latin America. She concludes that neither is the ‘magic bullet’ that they are sometimes claimed to be, although they can both contribute to poverty alleviation when dealt with together as complementary approaches.

We have a conference report by Mochamad Indrawan et al . which illustrates the importance of taking major issues such as biodiversity to a specific context, in this case Papua. The conference concluded by stressing the importance of building social capital in order to protect one of the worlds most unique yet endangered ecosystems. A viewpoint by Jonathan Connor gives space to a debate about the role of the church in accepting or challenging homophobic tendencies by some African governments, specifically using the case of Zimbabwe. Another viewpoint, by John Beauclerk, looks at an alternative approach to civil society, which reintroduces the political into development, as opposed to the recent emphasis on civil society as merely a delivery mechanism for official aid agency priorities and programmes. Beauclerk goes onto provide a practice-based conceptual framework which should enable us to better understand the role and function of civil society. The second of our new series, ‘Essential Reading’ is by Alan Fowler who has chosen three more contemporary publications which he feels may be important pointers to the future of development.