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Globalize the disciplines! Decolonize development studies!

This article was first published in by the Danish Development Research Network.

“What is left of “development” with an ever-expanding development agenda through the SDGs? What does the expansion mean for our understanding of “development” and “development research”? These fundamental questions about the future of development research were addressed during the DevRes 2021 Conference ‘Advancing Sustainable Transformation’ organised by the recently launched Swedish Development Research Network (SweDev) in June 2021.” 

“The chair of the roundtable, Frederik Söderbaum, set the scene when arguing that a specific debate has emerged in the Swedish context about “development research” as a field of study. Some continue to approach “development research” as a distinct interdisciplinary, social science discipline, whereas others perceive it more broadly as “any kind of research of relevance for developing countries” — i.e., any discipline, methodology and research tradition focusing on poor countries. This post will focus on the critical intervention by Maria Erikssson-Baaz to inspire a continued and wider debate, which is relevant to any research community.” 

“With reference to the article From International to Global Development: New Geographies of 21st Century Development by Rory Horner and David Hulme published in Development and Change Volume 50, Issue 2, March 2019, 347-378, Maria Erikssson-Baaz observes an undoing of distinctions between a developed North versus an undeveloped South both in factual terms and in policy rhetoric. Looking at a range of indicators – GDP growth, income levels (growing middle class), life expectancy, education, decreasing levels of aid dependency, carbon emissions. emergence of new donors, and most importantly growing inequalities within countries rather than between countries – they all reflect an increasing convergence between North and South.” 

“The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which was agreed upon in 2015, departs from any form of spatial distinction as laid down in the earlier Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Not least the challenge of climate change puts considerable emphasis of the Global North and its elite populations.” 

“Maria Erikssson-Baaz asks the question about where these recent trends leave development studies. The area of research becomes impossibly wide if developments studies is redefined in terms of poverty and inequalities everywhere. Should other disciplines, which address such issues in the Global North, e.g., social work studies, sociology, merge with development studies?” 

“The reformulation of development studies further holds the potential of decolonizing research. In a joint statement issued by seventeen researchers, including Maria Erikssson-Baaz, the marked inequality between on the one hand brokering researchers, who are based in the research setting and regulate the access and flow of knowledge and are referred to as “local research assistants” or “fixers”, and on the other hand contracting researchers who often are based in the global North and who contract brokering researchers. While accounts of research exploitation go long back in history, they have increased in recent years, mostly enabled by social media.” 

This article was written by Arne Wangel. 

Better support for local communities can boost reforestation efforts in Ethiopia

This article was first published by Forest News

“Tree planting in Ethiopia presents opportunities, but also poses unique challenges for local communities. Limited opportunities to influence decisions about reforestation and difficulties securing long term rights to and benefits from trees hinder efforts. Yet with support, the country will be able to meet its tree planting targets, researchers say.” 

“Ethiopia has committed to rehabilitate 15 million hectares under the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative (AFR100), which is 15 percent of the continental target of reforesting almost 100 million hectares by 2030.” 

“For Ethiopia to effectively meet its goals, it needs to address issues of land tenure, and implement socially inclusive, participatory planning and objective setting, and performance-based monitoring, according to an article published in a special issue of the journal of Forest Ecology and Management.”

“Reforestation policies should take into consideration the lack of historical land-use data, which heightens the risk that an area targeted for reforestation may not have previously been forested, increasing the potential for negative environmental consequences if afforestation is implemented.”

“Current tree-planting targets are based on the belief that forests covered 40 percent of the country’s land area and that they were depleted throughout the 20th century, but we don’t know that for a fact,” said Habtemariam Kassa, a principal scientist with the Center for International Forestry (CIFOR) Research and World Agroforestry (ICRAF) and one of the authors of the paper, explaining that the earliest national survey of forest cover in 2000 indicated that only 12 percent of the country was forested or covered in woodland. “We don’t have national-level data before that”.”

“About half of land in Ethiopia is used for pastoral and agropastoral activities and scientists are concerned that afforestation, wrongly identified as reforestation, could impinge on these areas. Currently, these areas are under threat from exotic and indigenous invasive woody species, which could be misidentified as natural regeneration.” 

“Further complicating matters, the scientists learned that there is also a perception that local communities in Ethiopia cause forest loss because they are poor and as a result, out of need, put undue pressure on resources. Yet the relationship between poverty and deforestation is not that simple, said Stibniati Atmadja, a scientist at CIFOR-ICRAF, and a co-author on the paper. “The rich and powerful have more means to do more harm to forests.” ” 

This article was written by Jullie Mollins. The research results form part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry.

Afghanistan: The humanitarian system risks repeating its mistakes

This article was first published by The New Humanitarian

“Will the international humanitarian system repeat its mistakes by overlooking the capabilities that Afghan professionals have built over the last two decades? There are already worrying signs.” 

“The fall of Kabul to the Taliban almost immediately triggered international humanitarian mechanisms and a series of funding appeals by UN agencies. This is a well-known drill, as if the first and loudest call has a better chance of being heard by donors.”

“International support is desperately needed. But in its rush to help Afghanistan, the humanitarian world risks superimposing costly, parallel systems that ignore what already exists: a functioning public health sector, Afghan NGOs waiting for support, and aid agencies that have operated amid a complex crisis for years.”

“This same story repeats again and again: In an emergency, the humanitarian sector feels obligated to send goods and personnel into a country in turmoil, as if this is the only option.” 

“Today’s health system is a unique, hybrid model: In most of the country’s 34 provinces, the government uses donor funds to contract Afghan NGOs to deliver essential services. Years of donor investments in Afghanistan’s health sector have produced results. Maternal mortality, child mortality, rates for neonatal deaths – all have dropped significantly over the last 20 years.” 

“Fund Afghan NGOs: Humanitarian donors should sub-contract and fund the Afghan health NGOs that have been delivering healthcare for the last 20 years. They can continue to bring essential care to the most remote parts of Afghanistan, where populations have been interacting with these professionals and have trust in the system.”

This article was written by Karl Blanchet, Ahmad Shah Salehi, Sayed Ataullah Saeedzai & Bertrand Taithe. 

Rethinking humanitarian reform: what will it take to truly change the system?

This brief was first published by the Center for Global Development.

“This brief summarises three years of research under the project “Rethinking Humanitarian Reform” led by Jeremy Konyndyk, Patrick Saez, and Rose Worden, and funded by the aid departments of the United Kingdom and Australia. The project aimed to understand the incentives behind the humanitarian system and shift them to better prioritise the needs of affected populations.”

“Changes sought to pull the disparate components of the sector towards a more unified approach to leadership, coordination, financing, and accountability. They usefully established a more predictable international humanitarian coordination structures and a new contingency fund (CERF), under the leadership of the UN.”

“Following the fragmented response to the Syria crisis and the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, a fresh set of reforms was launched via the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit—notably a package of comprehensive commitments between donors and aid agencies to efficiency and effectiveness, known as the Grand Bargain. In it, participants committed to improve humanitarian financing by increasing direct support to local and national responders, reducing earmarking, and including people receiving aid in making decisions which affect their lives.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic is a crisis of truly global scale and it will place enormous constraints on traditional humanitarian operations: models accustomed to surging support toward geographically delimited crises must now tackle a geographically unlimited crisis and huge obstacles to surging personnel and resources…Humanitarians will have to rethink the way the response is planned, coordinated and financed…All this should press traditional humanitarian actors toward a deeper and more equitable partnership with, host governments and local actors – both because local leadership in this crisis is critical to success, and because it is an operational inevitability.”

“The fact that COVID-19 prompted a pivot back to habitual practices—rather than accelerating a shift toward reform commitments—is a signal that the Grand Bargain reforms, like those before them, have not been transformative. Worse, they might have entrenched power imbalances, inefficiency, and a lack of accountability to people in crises. Every major disaster is a test of how far the humanitarian system has changed. Earlier crises forced a reckoning of the shortcomings of previous reforms; now, the humanitarian sector must learn from its response to COVID-19.”

“Ultimately, it is a political and philosophical choice. Are humanitarian actors committed to building a system in which affected people will set the tone, rather than big institutions? Are those big institutions, the leaders who run and oversee them and the donors who fund them, willing to redefine their role and share their power? Will they support a sector in which institutions measure their impact in terms of partnerships and outcomes, rather than revenue? Can international institutions evolve toward enabling others’ success, rather than emphasising their own delivery and flag-planting? Can global humanitarianism adapt to elevate the views of affected people, rather than the mandates of global institutions, as the organising principles for humanitarian action?” 

“We proposed several major changes to the humanitarian architecture to facilitate such an evolution. Importantly, these shifts would span four levels of the humanitarian landscape: adopting independent accountability mechanisms to enable a people-driven response, using area-based models of frontline coordination, remaking the financial business model to resource the humanitarian system as a public good provider and adapting the sector’s governance to more effectively steer its humanitarian impact.”

This article was written by researchers Patrick SaezJeremy Konyndyk and Rose Worden.

‘New winter of discontent could be hard to avoid’: economic expert on the crises facing Britain

England brexit effects

This article was first published by The Conversation.

“Eighteen months into the COVID pandemic, another very difficult winter looks increasingly likely with fears about a resurgence of the virus combined with rising inflation and an energy and supply chain crisis. So what can we expect, and how meaningful are the parallels with the 1970s? We asked finance and economy specialist Steve Schifferes to explain.”

“The first is the pandemic itself. We still have a high volume of cases. We don’t have as many deaths or hospitalisations as in previous waves, but the onset of winter, coupled with the more infectious nature of the delta variant, and the fact that many people are still unvaccinated, might mean more restrictions. When Boris Johnson recently announced a “plan B” with more restrictions, nothing was ruled out and masks and remote working were mentioned as possibilities. This potentially means more economic disruption.”

“The biggest problem is oil and gas prices, with UK wholesale gas prices having almost tripled since the beginning of 2021. Gas is still one of the main components of the energy mix in the UK, so consumer prices for gas and electricity have risen sharply, while lots of businesses are being affected – for example, steel and fertiliser plants have been temporarily closing.”

“Meanwhile, shortages of everything from lorry drivers to carbon dioxide are causing problems in retail and hospitality. We’re seeing supermarket shelves increasingly empty. Brexit has made the whole situation worse because a lot of workers in the food supply chain came from the continent and are no longer allowed to work in the UK.”

“Today, with more modest inflation and weaker unions, conditions are somewhat more benign – we probably won’t have to live through the famous “stagflation” that dogged the 1970s. Yet the level of disruption caused by Brexit and the pandemic is unprecedented, as it the size of the public deficit for many years.”

This article is a Q&A with Steve Schifferes, Honorary Research Fellow, University of London. 

The trust paradox – when continued NPM leads to trust

New Public Management

This article was first published by Organisation & Society.

“Control and management can be what builds trust.”

“With this article we wish to encourage reflection on different conditions and consequences surrounding trust based management. New Public Management (NPM) and the reforms that relate to NPM have been increasingly criticised in the past few years. In response to the criticism, the government in 2016 appointed the Trustdelegation with the mission to develop so called trust based management for the public sector. In the popular debate, trust tends to be understood as an alternative to formal governance, measurements and control. It has been assumed that a reduction of this kind of governance will improve the prospects of trust. But this is not given.”

“Formal governance, measurements and control do not always diminish trust. Our research show that it can actually be the other way around. In a study of governance and trust within development cooperation we recently discovered that formal governance with traditional NPM qualities was seen as a crucial source of trust, particularly for inter-organizational relationships at a distance. We argue for the fact that this can explain why NPM still lingers on.”

Read more about the key takeaways from the research behind this article in the full version.

This article is written by Susanna Alexius, Associate Professor at SU, and Janet Vähämäki, Team Lead & Senior Researcher at SEI.

Self-interest: the strongest driving force of aid work

This review was first published by SvD.

David Nilsson, researcher at KTH Royal Institute of Technology, shares his opinion on the new book “A dizzy task: Sweden and aid 1945-1975” (En svindlande uppgift: Sverige och biståndet 1945-1975) by Annika Berg and Mattias Tydén.

“A well-organised development in the third world was considered to be a wise investment during the childhood of international aid work in the 1940s and 50s. Despite humanitarian reasons, the fear of hordes of poor people seems to have been the heaviest motivation, according to the new book “A dizzy task”.

Climate change: why government failure to act isn’t the problem

Climate change

This article was first published by The Conversation

Nick Bernards, Associate Professor of Global Sustainable Development at the University of Warwick, discusses the role of the global economy in relation to sustainability and climate action. 

“The world absolutely needs to reduce or eliminate emissions, and fast. But while many of the problems inhibiting effective climate action are political, they aren’t really about politicians failing to do anything. There has actually been plenty of climate action over the last couple of decades. So far, however, it’s largely failed.”

“We live in a world marked by severe disparities of wealth and power within and between countries, many of which are rooted in longer histories of colonialism and exploitation. These disparities have often allowed powerful companies in sectors like finance and energy to dictate the course of climate action. This has made it very difficult to pursue measures that might threaten their interests, but which would dramatically reduce emissions – like banning fossil fuel exploration.”

Afghanistan: western powers must accept defeat and deal realistically with the Taliban

Afghanistan

This article was first published by The Conversation

Sten Rynning, Professor of International Security and War Studies from the University of Southern Denmark, writes about the new role of western actors in Afghanistan after the Talibans took control over the nation on August 15. 

“Pakistan, which nourished the Taliban and played for time to maintain its sphere of influence, will thus durably “own” Afghanistan. It has the largest political and economic stakes in Afghanistan, it has more sway over the Taliban movement than any other outside player, and its longstanding ally, China, has already indicated its willingness to be of help.” 

“A forward-looking policy must begin with an overt recognition that the Taliban and Pakistan have been victorious. It should then spell out the terms of western engagement. Having lost the war, the west must offer the Taliban development potential: diplomatic recognition and, with it, opportunities for finance and trade. The west should also offer to channel humanitarian aid into Afghanistan on terms that suit both sides.”

“For its part, the west cannot accept international terrorism emanating from Afghanistan – and Europe, especially, cannot accept a continued flow of refugees for fear of further inflaming domestic politics. Western states would be right to signal that financial sanctions, covert military operations and other means of coercion could come into play if they are pushed.”

“Time is of the essence. Afghanistan could be on the precipice of civil war while bewildered western governments seem to be mostly concerned with their public image in the face of human suffering. One can all too easily imagine that nothing much will happen in terms of western response – and certainly not a coordinated one.”