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‘Give a woman a fish and she eats for a day, teach her to fish and she eats her for a lifetime’ goes the proverb (sort of); but give her access to markets and she earns a living, and give her community resources to fish sustainably and she can feed the world

Demetria Solomon: maize farmer of central Malawi

Demetria Solomon, 54-year-old farmer growing maize, potato, sota, green beans (and former secretary of the local irrigation scheme) in Khulungira Village, central Malawi (photo credit: ILRI/Mann).

Over at SciDev.Net, David Dickson is making the case for joined-up thinking in development work.

‘A holistic approach is also essential for building the solid infrastructure and social systems needed to sustain scientific research and technological innovation in developing countries, as both activities cut across a wide range of different social and economic objectives,’ Dickson (sensibly) says, going on to argue for more ‘systems thinking’.

While ‘holistic approaches’ and ‘systems thinking’ are in vogue these days, favoured by enlightened science leaders at the International Livestock Research Institute and elsewhere, Dickson does us a favour by reminding us why these approaches—de rigueur for the world’s smallholder farmers—are easier for scientists and development experts to talk about than to take up.

‘. . . [D]espite the need for a holistic approach, introducing greater “systems thinking” into the development agenda in general—and the health agenda in particular—is easier said than done. In developing countries, for example, intense rivalries for funding between ministries can undermine policies intended to promote collaboration in addressing development challenges. Similarly, multilateral agencies, including the technical bodies of the United Nations, such as the Food and Agriculture Organization and the WHO [World Health Organisation], tend to see development problems through the ‘”vertical” lenses of their own specialised mandate. Cross-agency collaboration has had a chequered history. Donor agencies find it easier to meet domestic demands for greater accountability by measuring the outputs of clearly defined projects, rather than assessing the impact of their funding on programmes that are more diffuse and long term (such as building up the infrastructure required to establish a strong scientific community). Finally, efforts to establish closer collaboration between the public and private sectors pose their own challenges. These can range from conflicting definitions of public need to deep-rooted distrust of the activities of foreign-owned corporations (for example, in the pharmaceutical and agribusiness industries).’

‘There are no easy solutions to any of these problems,’ Dickson concludes. ‘But a first step lies in . . . helping countries build up the complex systems on which social and economic development depends.’

Read the whole article by David Dickson, director of SciDev.Net, at SciDev.Net: Development needs a holistic approach, 29 October 2010.

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