Select Committee on International Development Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Intermediate Technology Development Group Ltd

  We welcome the publication of a second White Paper on international development. There is much to welcome in the paper—notably the serious attempt at coherence in government policy towards international development; the untying of aid; clear recognition of the situation and desires of poor women and men; the commitment to aid policy change in the EU; reform of the CAP; and international institutional reform—but we would like to concentrate here on issues on which we believe ITDG has experience and a particular competence. We would be grateful if you would bring these to the notice of the members of the Select Committee.


  ITDG is very pleased to note the recognition in the White Paper of the importance of technology change for poverty reduction. The paper not only acknowledges that globalisation has been facilitated by the development of new technologies (17), but that technology change, through the diffusion of new ideas and knowledge, is essential for the elimination of poverty (105, 127). The paper also recognises that essential capabilities—health and education—are required for the advantages of new technologies to be achieved (45).

  It has been our experience that the appropriateness of new technology to the circumstances of women and men living in poverty is rarely explicitly considered by international development organisations and NGOs. The White Paper, we note, when discussing access to, and diffusion of, technology, focuses on "countries" and not on people. It is poor women and men, who need access to improved technologies that are relevant to their particular circumstances, including their gender, their skills, and their physical location. Most of the world's technology research and development is designed to meet the needs of the industrialised world, and there is little evidence to suggest that global markets will deliver improved technologies that the poor will find affordable, appropriate and accessible.


  We welcome the recognition in the White Paper of the great significance of micro- and small-scale enterprises (MSEs) "as the main source of employment in developing countries" (94, 154). The need to identify and support enabling environments for the poor in small enterprises is highlighted, but the list of government actions at the end of the chapter makes no mention of it (90-94). Given recognition of their importance as a source of employment, and the obvious importance of secure employment for poverty reduction, we would expect to see the small enterprise sector being clearly assigned a more prominent place in the work of DFID.

  The constraints to market access mentioned are well known, as is the importance of addressing more than credit needs. Yet, the evidence that any more than a small minority of MSEs can and will gain from market liberalisation is absent. The vast majority of MSE operators have few assets, have very narrow margins and serve low-income domestic markets. It is difficult to see how any policy prescriptions proposed in the White Paper will enable them to engage in globalised markets. Practical and policy measures are needed that will enable MSEs to adapt production methods, design competitive products and access information about markets and technology options. These might include forms of the public-private partnership which the White Paper proposes as ways forward in other areas.


  We welcome the Government's recognition that patterns of consumption in industrialised countries, including the UK, will have to change (261) and we look forward to further policy initiatives by Government to bring this about. Meanwhile the support for initiatives to reduce emissions to the atmosphere is welcome.

  The White Paper suggests that these global initiatives are in part to address the situation of the two billion people lacking access to commercial energy services. As international financing for renewable energy in developing countries comes on stream, through the G8 initiative and the Clean Development Mechanism, there is a need to build upon good practice and knowledge in supporting poor people to access energy services. ITDG has contributed to the G8 initiative, and we welcome their recognition that renewables often provide the most cost-effective energy solution for poor people's domestic energy use. But we should not look to the poor to take on the burden of climate change reductions.


  There is little argument that modern information and communications technologies (ICTs) have facilitated the process of globalisation, and that they are having an impact in developing countries. While appropriate regulation and policy frameworks are indeed essential (119), the challenge of how ICTs can be made accessible—physically and affordably—to poor people remains. The White Paper advocates "public-private partnerships", but if these are purely commercially oriented then the poor will lose out. R&D on content, applications, software and even hardware is not commercially driven with the needs of the poor in mind, and there is a role for development assistance to support the development of poverty-focused applications.

  It is all too easy to see ICTs as revolutionising the opportunities for poor people, overlooking the many years of experience in the development community of communications and of technology change, because the technologies are new and rapidly changing. The so-called 'digital divide' is, however, only another dimension of inequality—the information "poor" are "the poor". ITDG shares the Government's belief that modern ICTs have the potential to contribute to poverty elimination, but this should not overshadow the continuing role of traditional, oral and written, information and communications technologies.


  While there is no question that there is a far-reaching need for direct and substantial investment in research that benefits poor people (136), the White Paper is mistaken when it states that small scale agricultural enterprises have no capacity to undertake this research (137). The implication that technology change comes from outside fails to recognize the creativity of millions of women and men farmers continuously engaged in innovative processes by which they may find new ways of producing crops and securing livelihoods. Raising the profile of the mass of farmer-managed micro-experiments, the perceptions and experience of poor small producers, should be at the forefront of the research process, thereby improving their capacities to adopt and adapt new skills and technologies.

  The White Paper suggests that there is a "need to modernise agriculture" in developing countries in order to enable them to export the kind of agricultural produce demanded in the industrialised countries (223). Technologies and social processes for a local level sustainable agriculture are well-tested and established, contributing to higher farm productivity, better nutrition, improved natural capital, stronger social organisations, knowledge and self-esteem. Few poor farmers are able to take on the risks of shifting production to meet export demands, a change that often leads to greater vulnerability.

  Research by ITDG and ActionAid has shown that communities seek guidance and support to develop appropriate strategies to deal with challenges in agricultural production and natural resource management. Of particular importance for setting policies that support this are, the confusion of traditional and formal management approaches; how gender can affect institutional, environmental and policy-related changes; and who owns and controls resources.

  In our experience, farmers and local communities are able to organise and manage their resources as common properties—and have often done so over long periods of time. Common property rights can achieve much greater efficiencies in resource use, innovation, and greater equity in civil society. While the White Paper highlights the importance of secure property rights, we need to recognise the inherent tension between increasing production and the need to sustain the local and global commons, which is at the heart of the debate on ways forward in agricultural production and poverty reduction.


  We welcome the recognition in the White Paper of the pressing need to protect traditional knowledge and access to genetic resources (147). To this end the Government's invitation to further dialogue on a pro-poor review of TRIPs, and the formation of an Intellectual Property Rights Commission are constructive measures. They are clearly related, and we would expect the Commission's work to be completed before the Government's stance in TRIPs negotiations is fixed. ITDG, which has experience of contributing both to debate on TRIPs issues and to international commissions, looks forward to the opportunity to contribute to these processes.


  ITDG endorses the White Paper's view that there is a role for UK-based NGOs to develop civil society in the South (311). Like many other NGOs, we are already doing this. We also support the view that NGOs should undertake larger programmes of work (314). However, small projects should not be overlooked as they provide excellent opportunities for innovation and action research, and are more likely to reflect needs and priorities of the people affected.

  We note the commitment to continue the Development Policy Forums (363), which are "intended as an opportunity to listen to a wide variety of views, to discuss government policy and to build support for development." (Box 16) ITDG welcomes DFID's support for public education and opportunities to contribute to this work. Means, in particular, to enable the uninformed to understand better the local and global significance of international development are required.

  Overall, the White Paper places considerable emphasis on the need for the "right policies" if globalisation is to contribute to the elimination of poverty and reduction of inequality. There is sufficient evidence, recognised by the White Paper, that the immediate effects of market liberalisation and structural adjustment, key elements of the "right policies", can be extremely damaging to the livelihoods of poor women and men. There is little evidence that countries are able to get through this stage before the negative effects on people result in consequences for the longer term. The White Paper suggests that in the longer term the poor will benefit, but often this appears to be through indirect multiplier (trickle down) effects.

  Nevertheless, the Government's position that the process of globalisation needs to be managed and regulated with poverty elimination in mind, is welcome. And we hope to be able to work with DFID and other government departments to achieve this.

Andrew Scott, Policy Director.

Intermediate Technology Development Group Ltd

January 2001

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