Tag: development aid

Water, sanitation and hygiene are crucial to maintain health and create sustainable livelihoods

More than 1.2 billion people lack access to clean drinking water.

SEI and SweDev are introducing colleagues from SEI’s Development and Aid Policy Team as part of an interview series. In this interview with Ylva Rylander, Lead Communications Officer for SweDev at SEI, Nelson Ekane highlights solutions to sanitation and hygiene challenges.

Nelson Ekane, SEI Research Fellow and SweDev member, is specializing in multi-level sanitation governance, perception of risk and risk communication.

Nelson Ekane, SEI. Photo: SEI / Christin Philipson.

With his extensive experience and roots in Cameroon, Nelson has a profound understanding of the challenges associated with sanitation and hygiene in the Sub-Saharan region, and what solutions that are required to tackle these challenges.

Q: What do you consider to be the biggest social, cultural, and political challenges in the countries of your research in terms of sanitation and hygiene?

Inadequate water and sanitation facilities and poor hygiene practices impose costs on society. These inadequacies take a toll on human health, particularly among children under five years of age and the vulnerable groups in society. Poor health impairs the productive ability of people and keeps them away from school and work. These have implications for human and economic development and undoubtedly exacerbates poverty.

Q: Has Covid-19 made governments and people more aware of the need to provide rural, urban and peri-urban areas with sufficient sanitation equipment, access to clean water, etc.?

The Covid-19 pandemic presents both challenges and opportunities. In terms of challenges, access to water and soap for handwashing at critical times remains a critical issue in areas of water scarcity and lower socio-economic status in developing countries. The pandemic has the potentials to worsen the burden of disease in these contexts.

In terms of opportunities, the pandemic made salient the problem of inadequate sanitation and hygiene. Handwashing with water and soap is increasingly being promoted as one of the key preventive measures against the virus. The pandemic forces governments to intensify efforts to improve access to water and sanitation facilities particularly in underserved areas. It is left to see if these efforts are sustained in the long-term.

Sanitation in India and Sub-Saharan Africa

In 2014 Rwanda officially launched a six-month national campaign to improve personal, domestic, and public places’ hygiene. The same year, the Indian government introduced the Total Sanitation Campaign and relaunched it as Swachh Bharat in 2014.

Q: Are the root causes of sanitation and hygiene issues in Sub-Saharan Africa the same as in India, and are there different challenges preventing proper sanitation and hygiene?

Rwanda and India are different contexts but similar in what they lack – access to functional and decent toilet facilities for all. The root causes of this inadequacy are not the same. In the case of India, the socio-economic and cultural differences within the country are vast. Open defecation is still prevalent in some parts of both countries, particularly in India where people hold steadfast to certain cultural and traditional norms and practices which in some cases compromise their health and well-being.

Political leadership and commitment to address the problem is strong in both countries. However, the approaches in addressing the problem are different. For instance, Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) is widely used in the total sanitation campaign in India while in Rwanda, Community Health Clubs (CHCs) are implemented as part of the Community Based Environmental Health Promotion Programme (CBEHPP) improve community health by reducing the disease burden related to inadequate sanitation, poor hygiene practices, and unsafe drinking water.

Examples of successful implementation

Q: Can you provide an example of a successfully implemented sanitation and hygiene efforts in Sub-Saharan Africa, and what they key components of its success were?

Rwanda is one of the countries making good progress in improving access to water and sanitation services. Progress in Rwanda is attributed to the following: political leadership and commitment in combination with top-down authority and oversight to ensure accountability and improve sector performance; implementation of the CHC approach with assistance from the districts has enabled many households gain access to decent water, sanitation and hygiene facilities. Much is, however, still to be done to introduce and mainstream systems that sustainably manage wastes with possibilities for reuse.

Q: In terms of development aid, what is needed from organizations that want to contribute to improving the hygiene and sanitation issues in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA)?

Sanitation remains a low priority in the national budgets of many countries including Rwanda despite proclamations of political commitments to tackle the problem. The dependence of national governments on external funding and the lack of national ownership and follow-up of programmes, particularly when external funding ends, compromise sustainability of programmes. Policy fragmentation and coordination problems are rife in some countries as increasing numbers of non-state actors, notably international, local NGOs, and private operators take up key roles in filling the resource and service delivery gaps.

Countries having sustainable access to basic water and sanitation services for all as an important objective of their political project should be supported in realizing their visions. These countries should be encouraged to mobilize funds from national budgets to support the campaign. Both Rwanda and India are examples of countries where the problem is being articulated as part of the political project with the aim to promote a healthy and productive society.

The future of sanitation

Q: How do you see research on sanitation and hygiene developing over the next few years? Will the hygiene and sanitation issues be solved in a foreseeable future?

In regions/countries, particularly those in Africa still grappling with the challenges of providing equal access to basic water and sanitation services, emphasis needs to be placed on building institutions that reflect the reality of these countries i.e., taking into consideration the economic, social, political, and cultural specificities. This needs to be accompanied by careful organization of various actors in society to focus on achieving clear goals and obtaining concrete results. This would need rethinking the planning system in the countries. From a planning point of view, most of the Countries in SSA for example inherited a colonial planning system which was not intended to be inclusive. This planning system has evolved according to the same rules established when it was introduced and partly explains the present inequality in service delivery in these countries.

Sanitation and hygiene are behavioural matters largely influenced by context and culture. These factors pose multiple barriers to behaviour change, particularly in the developing context. Barriers to behaviour change relate to cognition (thought or understanding), attitudes (feelings or emotions), and intentions to change (actions). Systematic analysis of these barriers is required to improve understanding of what encourages the behaviours and practices that are being discouraged. Practices and behaviours embedded in cultural norms, codes of conduct and religion change slowly over very long periods.

Written by Nelson Ekane, SEI Research Fellow, Ylva Rylander, Communications Officer for SweDev at SEI and Jenny Wickman, former SEI employee.

Sweden’s Development Policy since 1990: A policy paradigm shift waiting to happen?

Stockholm, Sweden, street

Jan Pettersson, Managing Director of the Expert Group for Aid Studies (EBA), has published a journal article in Forum for Development Studies, Volume 49, 2022, analyzing the history of the Swedish development aid policy since 1990.

Poverty reduction – the overarching goal of Swedish aid

Since the birth of the formal Swedish development policy in 1962, the overarching goal of Swedish aid has been poverty reduction. While the goal has been up for revision four times (under two social democratic and two conservative governments) it has only been rephrased rather than reformed.

In addition, Sweden’s ambition to devote one per cent of its gross national income to development aid each year has been largely upheld since it was first achieved in 1975, save a period of 13 years (1993–2005, under the social democratic rule) where it was abandoned with reference to budgetary pressures. Aid was, however, never less than 0.7 per cent of gross national income (GNI).

Goals and volumes not being altered over time, even under government changes, suggest Swedish development cooperation policy has been formed under consensus. This apparent continuity, however, masks some important differences between political parties’ policy preferences, and the stability may be better explained by large majorities being in favour of current policies than by consensus.

Jan Pettersson, argues that the preconditions for those differing ideational positions to be translated into policy change are today quite favorable, suggesting that a policy paradigm shift, a ‘radical policy change’, may be in the making.

What will happen to Swedish development aid?

The future of Swedish development aid is uncertain.

Global Podd, produced by David Isaksson at Global Bar Magazine, explores the future direction of Swedish development aid and discusses the questions: How will aid look like under Sweden’s new government? What priorities will be set and what does the wording on migration mean?

Only a short period of time has passed since Sweden got a new Minister for International Development Cooperation and Foreign Trade with the appointment of Johan Forssell, and it will take some time before a development aid budget for 2023 will be presented.

Aid budget in 2023

A few weeks ago, civil society sounded the alarm about major cutbacks. Now, they look to be significantly lower than expected. In 2023, aid will amount to 0.88%, with increased support for civil society. At the same time, there is great uncertainty about what the wording on aid and migration in the Tidö Agreement will actually mean.

Gudrun Brunegård, Member of the Swedish Parliament and spokesperson for aid policy at the Swedish Christian Democrats (KD), discuss together with Jesper Sundewall, Vice-chair of SweDev and researcher on global health at Lund University, and Monica Lorensson, Head of Policy & Advocacy at Plan International Sweden. The following questions are discussed in the 117th episode of the Global Podd:

  • How will aid meet the increased demands for effectiveness?
  • Does the civil society have reason to rejoice that it is now getting more resources?
  • How can research be given greater prominence in development aid, and what form should future health aid take?

Translation and editing of Global Bar Magazine article by Ylva Rylander, Communications Officer at SEI for SweDev and Roksana Rotter, Research Intern for SweDev.

Exploring WASH outcomes in Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda

International workshop participants, including SEI Research Fellow Dr Nelson Ekane (left).

Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH)

Governance of water, sanitation and hygiene services in most countries in Africa is characterized by the state acting through non-state actors in supposedly flexible and inclusive state–citizen interactions with non-state actors (private and civil society) filling gaps in resources and service delivery.

However, the outcomes in terms of inclusive, sustainable and cost-effective service delivery is mixed in many cases. In part, this reflects that some public and private agencies delivering basic services face problems of legitimacy due to low levels of accountability and trust.

International networking event

Researchers and practitioners from Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Sweden explored the links between quality of government and water, sanitation and hygiene outcomes at a recent international networking event organized by SEI and the Institute for Human Settlement Studies (IHSS) at Ardhi University.

The theme of the workshop in Tanzania was “Quality of Government and Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Outcomes”. The purpose of this meeting was to:

  • officially present established country teams in Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda, including the roles of the team members
  • discuss and validate a research proposal, including case study designs for implementation in Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda
  • explore links with other national and international partners and networks.

What drives citizen perceptions of WASH services?

SweDev member Dr Ekane outlined the research agenda of the network and the specific research questions that the network explores. The main aim of the research is to understand how the type and quality of services provided to citizens in rural, peri-urban and urban settings influence citizen perceptions of public and private service providers and the willingness of citizens to pay for services and participate actively in community development.

The project also examines how well citizen perceptions align with expectations from the government and other non-state actors involved in service delivery and aims to reduce barriers that women and other vulnerable groups face in effectively demanding improved WASH services and otherwise participating in the sector. The research will be carried out in Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda and the research questions include:

  • How do different macro- and micro governance contexts influence citizens’ perception of the type and quality of services they receive in rural, urban and peri-urban settings?
  • To what extent does the type and quality of services citizens receive from the government and other actors influence their willingness to pay (WTP) for services and participate in development?
  • What are the perceived expectations of citizens from government and other actors providing basic services and how do they match or mismatch with the services provided?
  • How can citizen participation support the development of human-centered smart WASH strategies that enhance user satisfaction through improved supply, transparency and accountability?

“During the workshop, we explored the potential for future collaborative research, looking beyond 2022. In terms of progress, a key success is that the three country teams are now established and hosted by the University of Rwanda, Kyambogo University in Uganda and Ardhi University in Tanzania.”

Dr. Nelson Ekane, SEI Research Fellow, SweDev member and workshop leader

Dr Tatu Limbumba, Director of the Institute of Human Settlement Studies (IHSS) at Ardhi University, hoped that the participants would have fruitful discussions and highlighted the role of IHSS, a research arm of Ardhi University responsible for research, training and public services.

Presentations during this two-day workshop event were given by Dr Yohannes Kachenje, Ardhi University, Elisabeth Constance Nahimana, Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority and Joseph Hahirwabasenga, University of Rwanda, Martin N Mawejje, Water for People-Uganda Kyambogo University, Uganda, and SEI Research Fellow and Development and Aid Policy team member Dr Nelson Ekane.

Established teams in Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda

Dr Ekane reported that network country teams have been established in Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda. These teams are hosted by the University of RwandaArdhi University in Tanzania and Kyambogo University in Uganda.

Dr Ekane noted the network’s participation at the Africa Water and Sanitation Week 2021, where it held a session on “Quality of Government and Access to Clean Water and Sanitation: A New International Network and Research Agenda”. Several key recommendations from the session are represented in the resolutions from the conference, referred to as the Windhoek Multi-Stakeholders’ Resolutions for Accelerating Water Security and Access to Safely Managed Sanitation and Hygiene in Africa.

Written by Ylva Rylander, Communications Officer within SweDev at SEI. Edited by Nelson Ekane, SweDev member and SEI Research Fellow.

Is ‘right to food’ a way forward for food security in Swedish aid?

Recent years have seen an increase in hunger and malnutrition. The latest issue on the state of food security and nutrition by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) showed that reaching SDG 2 by 2030 is becoming increasingly difficult. In light of this development, support to agricultural development in the Global South continues to play a crucial part in the effort to provide food security for all.

The main goal of the seminar on hunger, food security and agriculture was to present two reports regarding Swedish aid to agriculture and to discuss their findings. The first report is an evaluation commissioned by Sida, on how Sida approaches and work with food security in its programmes, and where there is room for improvement. The second report, published by SEI for the Expert Group for Aid Studies (EBA), maps trends in Swedish aid to agriculture from 2005 to 2020.

 Evaluation on how Sida approaches food security

The evaluation on how Sida approaches food security concludes that Sida lacks focus and direction in its work with food security. Sida has many relevant specific programmes that impact on food security. However, apart from those working with agriculture, most Sida staff do not see food security as being relevant for their work. The EBA report find that agriculture and food security have low priority and visibility in Swedish aid. As the development landscape changed, so has also Swedish aid to agriculture. An integrated agricultural development agenda now includes agronomic, environmental, social and economic aspects of agricultural development. This indicates that aid to agriculture is integrated into other development areas, but also that aid to agriculture is invisible and underreported in Swedish aid.

Is aid to agriculture in Swedish development cooperation insufficient? Or is the integration of agriculture into other thematic areas positive for the overall aim of Swedish development policy? Mats Hårsmar, Deputy Managing Director at EBA asked these questions and introduced the seminar. By looking at food security from different perspectives, the panel departed from the new reports and discussed both the current and future situation of Swedish aid to agriculture.

This article points to three relevant takeaways from the seminar to generate action around the vision of sustainable agriculture and food security, and to promote multisectoral dialogue around these issues.

1. Building human resource capacity

The lack of knowledge on agriculture and food security was highlighted by Ian Christopolos, evaluator at Glemminge Development Research, explaining that “there are not many left in Sida that work with agriculture.” A comparison was made with the embassies abroad having more knowledge and insights into these issues than those working at the Swedish offices of Sida Stockholm. Agreeing with this statement, Linley Chiwona Karltun, a Researcher at SLU, pointed out the shrinking of human resource capacity in the form of academic competence and expertise employed by Sida. She explained that there is currently a rift between academia and development work. Students are encouraged to study issues related to sustainable development, but the road to actual employment within the development sector is difficult to navigate. She also claimed that people with agricultural expertise are increasingly rare in the Swedish resource base.

The EBA report further highlighted the issue of human resource capacity at Sida. Ivar Virgin, a Senior Research Fellow at SEI, and one of the authors of the EBA report, stated that there has been a decrease in agricultural-related competence within Sida and that the available thematic expertise is more spread out now than before. Agriculture is seen as a sector and “food security is something that people working with agriculture does, it is not our [Sida’s] responsibility,” was an answer Christopolos’ team got from their interviewees at Sida. By not clarifying the goals and targets within Sida’s programmes, Christopolos fear that food security can have a similar fate as nutrition. The agricultural sector views nutrition as a health issue and the health sector views it as an agricultural issue. With neither of them taking responsibility it risks falling through the cracks.

2. Increasing dialogue

Not widely mentioned in the reports, dialogue and networking were also brought to attention during the discussions. Virgin experienced the dialogue around food security and what sustainable agricultural development entails as lacking, particularly within Sida. The panellists all agreed that an increase in conversations around the issues of food security is important. However, True Shedvin, Head of Sida’s Unit for Global Sustainable Economic Development, highlighted that the national-level networks of Sida staff with agricultural expertise are well structured for their specific contexts in Sida’s partner countries. The issue then seemed to be on a Swedish level, where most of the panel agreed that more work should be done. Chiwona Karltun stressed the importance to continue to work against silo thinking.

3. ‘Food is different’

To clarify the desired achievement with food security, Christopolos and his team suggested the implementation of a “right to food” perspective that would place the issue of food security within the right-based views at Sida. Currently, food security is mentioned as an implicit goal in strategies and programmes working with livelihoods, but it is unclear in what context. Furthermore, there is no measurement of whether food security is practically implemented, so it is difficult to know if the programmes that implicitly mention food security result in providing food security. One way of resolving this issue could be for Sida to have a more goal or target-oriented focus on food security, continued Christopolos. This could provide the measure and evaluation of results and increase the pressure set by Sida on organisations working with these issues, such as the FAO.

Arne Bigsten, Senior Professor at the University of Gothenburg was hesitant to implement the ‘Right to food’ perspective as it can be vague and elusive. He preferred Sida’s definition of food security, which is viewed as related to business and livelihood, rather than being a source of food for household consumption. Economic growth is the solution to hunger, by increasing growth in the agricultural sector it can ensure that food availability remains high on both a national and household level, continued Bigsten.

Matilda Baraibar Norberg, a Researcher on economic history at Stockholm University agreed that the ‘right to food’ perspective could be seen as a little “airy” but noted that implementing this perspective could show that “food is different” and highlighted the declaration of the right to food as a human right by the UN.

This article was written by Nathalia Grandon at SIANI, and first published on www.SIANI.se.

‘There’s a path towards death that people travel’: how hunger destroys lives and communities

hands, food, wheat

In the face of record malnutrition, Isabel Choat‘s article in The Guardian emphasises the urgent need for aid to prevent people from suffering and dying.

“Dr Neal Russell, a paediatric adviser with MSF, says: “There is a path towards death that people travel. Until they are at a late stage, deficiencies can be corrected by giving food, but beyond a certain point the body cannot regulate itself, even with treatment.” (…) Though malnutrition affects millions of people, especially children, there is still much that is unknown about it.”

“What is known is that most people suffering from malnutrition die from disease or infection rather than starvation itself. Lack of food affects the immune system, shrinking the lymph nodes so they produce fewer white blood cells. The existing white blood cells don’t have sufficient energy to do their job in fighting off bacteria or healing a wound. A person is much more vulnerable to diseases such as malaria or conditions such as pneumonia and sepsis.”

A dystopian crisis

““Zero hunger” by 2030 was one of 17 sustainable development goals set out by the UN in 2015. Today, the UN predicts that the number of people affected by hunger will surpass 840 million by 2030. Far from the situation improving, millions are trapped in the worst hunger crisis in living memory. The World Food Programme says 50 million people in 45 countries are teetering on the edge of famine.”

““A few years ago, things were gradually getting better and now it is going in the other direction, rapidly. It’s extremely worrying when you think about the impact on real people. What shocks me is the lack of outrage – it’s horrifying,” Russell says.”

“A letter to UN member states as they gather for the 2022 UN general assembly this week was the latest call for immediate funding to prevent suffering now and in the future. “In a world of plenty, leaving people to starve is a policy choice,” reads the letter, which is signed by 238 NGOs. “The lack of political will and institutional failure to act quickly before the worst case hits means people are being left to lurch from crisis to crisis. People are not starving; they are being starved.””

“These are needless deaths that will be largely ignored by a world distracted by extreme weather, the cost of living crisis and political upheavals. Aid agencies have the knowledge and ability to address food insecurity, but not the funding, says Alexandra Rutishauser-Perera, head of nutrition at Action Against Hunger UK. “We know how to [address food insecurity] better and better, but we are not given the means to implement all we know. Aid is not arriving fast enough and is not large enough to improve the situation. For the moment, it’s about trying to reduce the number of lives being lost.””

“Russell describes watching this crisis unfold before his eyes as “dystopian”. He feels a responsibility to communicate what hunger does to people, but struggles to find the right words. “I can go into my safe zone [using medical terminology], but I have never found the language to describe the horror and injustice of seeing a child dying from malnutrition.””

This article was first published by Isabel Choat in The Guardian.

Successful outcomes of the SweDev assembly

SweDev’s annual assembly, held in Uppsala, was attended by 50 to 60 people online and on-site. The Steering Committee was represented on-site by Fredrik Söderbaum or Uppsala University, Jesper Sundewall of Lund University, Linda Engström at SLU, Mats Björk of Uppsala University and Henning Melber of the Nordic Africa Institute.

Fredrik Söderbaum, Chair of SweDev’s Steering Committee and Jesper Sundewall led the SweDev Assembly held in Uppsala 24 August 2022.

SweDev members discussed their role in the network, how SweDev can initiate processes for problem-driven research and how to locate relevant policy makers. Members were also introduced to the networks working groups on education, PhD education and advocacy, and suggested SweDev to organize future workshops for research capacity building.

Interesting dialogues on the role of SweDev and how to increase development research collaboration encouraged the SweDev Secretariat – represented by Janet Vähämäki, Director of SweDev and SEI Team Lead, Alice Tunfjord, SEI Research Associate, Ylva Rylander, SEI Communications Officer and Roksana Rotter.

Gambling on Development

Nairobi National park, Africa.

SweDev and SEI invited Stefan Dercon, Professor of Economic Policy at the Blavatnik School of Government and Director of the Centre for the Study of African Economies at the University of Oxford, to highlight the outcomes from his latest book “Gambling on Development: Why some countries win and others lose”.

The topic of the SEI and SweDev dialogue was how countries are managing growth and sustainable development. Professor Dercon was introduced by George Marbuah, SEI Research Fellow.

“It was a pleasure to host Professor Dercon who delivered a great and interesting keynote about why some countries win and others lose in development. Drawing on his extensive academic research and policy experience, he provided new insights on why this may be the case. Professor Dercon provocatively argued that the answer lies not in specific policies per se in many developing countries, but rather in a ‘development bargain’, where the elite in a particular country is able to ‘shift from protecting their own positions to gambling on a growth-based future’.”

George Marbuah, SweDev member and SEI Research Fellow

Gambling on Development: Why some countries win and others lose

The book draws on Professor Dercon’s academic research and his policy experience across three decades and 40-odd countries, exploring why some countries have managed to settle on elite bargains favoring growth and development and others did not.

“Aid is a little bit like dancing the tango, it should be led by someone and I think it should be led by the country,” said Dercon during his presentation.

Professor Stefan Dercon

Watch the recording:

SEI and SweDev dialogues on development research. Video: SEI / SweDev.

Professor Stefan Dercon

Stefan Dercon is a Professor of Economic Policy at the Blavatnik School of Government and Director of the Centre for the Study of African Economies at the University of Oxford. Professor Dercon combines his academic career with work as a policy advisor, providing strategic economic and development advice, and promoting the use of evidence in decision making.

SEI and SweDev dialogues on development research

“We had an exciting dialogue with over 30 participants from the global south and Sweden, who posed questions to Professor Dercon. We invite development researchers around the world; both Swedish researchers, international researchers, and researchers from the global south, to give a short talk about their ongoing or finalized research.”

Janet Vähämäki, Director of SweDev and SEI Development and Aid Policy Team Lead

The series of dialogues on development research, an initiative taken by the Development and Aid Policy Team at SEI Headquarters and the Swedish Development Researchers Network (SweDev), kicked off in the end of 2021. Our research-based community has raised the need for learning spaces and dialogue platforms for development research. This dialogue with Stefan Dercon was part of SEI’s and SweDev’s dialogue series on development research.

@SweDevNetwork @SEIresearch
#Agenda2030 #SustainableDevelopment #DevelopmentResearch #DevelopmentPolicy

Read about the dialogue with Professor Dercon

Read about the book

SweDev members appointed to the Sida Scientific Advisory Board   

World Economic Forum, annual meeting.

Appointed by the Government of Sweden in 2021, Sida’s Scientific Advisory Board provides recommendations to the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) on strategic directions and research-related matters within the agency’s research cooperation areas.

Bridging science and policy is a guiding aim of SweDev. Therefore, SweDev is proud to see two of its members represented in Sida’s Advisory Board. In conversation with the SweDev secretariat, Assem Abu Hatab and Swati Parashar presented their research, contributing to Swedish development cooperation objectives and challenges.

Assem Abu Hatab is a Senior Researcher in Development Economics at the Nordic Africa Institute (NAI), and an Associate Professor in Economics at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU). He is an applied economist with broad empirical interests and focus on food systems. 

Assem Abu Hatab. Photo: North Africa Institute

Q: Can you briefly describe your own research area at NAI and at SLU?  

I joined NAI three months ago, carrying out research previously conducted at the Economics Department. The focus of my research is on food systems in low- and middle-income countries, how these can help countries to achieve the SDGs, and how sustainable management can enable countries to be more food secure. Being an applied economist, I use data and econometrics, to produce quantitative research. Besides working extensively on matters related to China and India at SLU, I will be now mainly focusing on African countries, especially the MENA region.

Q:  How will your expertise and research be valuable in your role at Sida’s Scientific Advisory Board?   

I will start with a few data. The management and economics of the agricultural sector represent ¼ of the African GDP and provide work for 60% of the active working population in Africa. Food systems are the fundamental driver of society but are impacted by phenomena such as urbanization, population growth, climate change, and resource constraints.  

These challenges will inevitably affect the ability of the food system to achieve economic growth. Given the importance of agriculture in the African economy, it depends on the ability of African actors to pursue more resilient food systems. All in all, this is the background I bring to Sida, and I do believe these can be relevant for development cooperation.

Q: What are the key challenges that you think you’ll face as a member of Sida’s Scientific Advisory Board? 

It is difficult to answer as I only started in March. We work in small groups of researchers in a very sharing environment. The board knows how to deal with any challenges that are always upcoming, externally, and internally. The mission and purpose of the institution are to absorb these and take them as an opportunity to grow and learn.

Two years ago, most of the focus was on Covid-19 and now new challenges: Sida should always be ready to adapt to ongoing changes. That it’s how they can create an impact. Climate change adaptation in Africa is one focus, while in the MENA region access to water is the priority. These agencies must tailor to the needs of specific regions. Therefore, Sida Advisory Board is and needs to be reactive and ready to respond to any challenge.

Q: Which recommendations do you want to include in Sida’s strategic directions? Do you believe there should be more room for including research-based knowledge in decision-making? 

A: I will bring my expertise in food systems, but it is too early to talk about recommendations. Economic growth and development in Africa will depend on agriculture: Africans are intrinsically linked to agriculture. I will never cease to emphasize this and not so much because it is the field of study, but because it is based on facts. There is room to include research and researchers. The value of researchers and practitioners in enhancing the use of data has always been emphasized with the purpose of creating usable knowledge. Research jointly produced is more likely to be used in practice. Use the supply and demand example to understand the ongoing scenario: the more effective the demand, the more research will be produced. These actions must work in synergy: practitioners are involved in a just implementation and researchers can tailor down to specific needs. 

Q: SweDev aims to strengthen collaboration between development researchers and practitioners. What is your view on the need for it?   

A: I have been a SweDev member for a year, and I love reading your informative newsletter. There was a need for SweDev, and I hope the community will enlarge. However, SweDev needs to come up with a unique agenda setting. The network needs to build trust and partnership with additional research institutions and universities. All in all, I appreciate your focus on persuasive communication pathways: the value of any research is affected by communication. This is a twofold process for SweDev: on the one hand, listening to researchers’ priorities, and on the other hand, listening to the research outcomes: this is how the network can grow and reach out to policymakers. 

Swati Parashar is a Professor in Peace and Development at the School of Global Studies, University of Gothenburg. She predominantly works in the field of critical security and war studies, feminist, and postcolonial international relations. 

Written by Alessandro Giacardi, Communication, and Research Intern at Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) for the Development and Aid Policy Team and SweDev. Edited by Alice Castensson, Associate at Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) for SweDev, and Ylva Rylander, Communications Officer at Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI).