South-South Cooperation, Antidote to Western Arrogance

What do farmers from Benin and Costa Rica have in common? Pineapples. Organic pineapples, that is. They claim South-South cooperation has made their crops bigger, better and more profitable. But how different is it really from ‘ordinary’ development cooperation?

Beninois farmer Yves Anthonin Ahouangan used to spend 18 months to get his pineapples ready for consumption. Since he participated in a programme for South-South cooperation on sustainable development, his pineapples are ready to harvest after 15 months. “I produce more, it’s costing me less and they taste better too,” he adds.

Following the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development, Benin, Costa Rica and Bhutan decided to share knowledge on sustainable production, tourism, energy, biodiversity and gender equity. The Netherlands kickstarted the programme and provided the initial funding of 9.25 million euros. Originally a full-blown partner in the programme, the Netherlands withdrew from the partnership when it felt its relevance was compromised.

Failing perseverance

Jan Pronk, Minister of Development Cooperation at the time the programme took off, admits that was a mistake, also on his part. “The Netherlands was very arrogant. It thought it knew it all and was not willing to learn from beneficiaries on how it could improve development cooperation. I wasn’t persuasive enough and failed to convince people of the need for South-South cooperation.”

A shame, thinks Adolphe Adjanohoun, director of Benin’s Centre for Agriculture: “South-South cooperation is more efficient than North-South cooperation. The mentality and circumstances are often not the same, which is exactly why many well-meant development projects fail. When a developing country tackles a common problem however, the circumstances are more equal. That makes it easier for other developing countries to adopt the technique.”

Chicken manure

Farmer Yves Anthonin Ahouangan visited pineapple farmers in Costa Rica. He saw how his Latin American peers covered their fields with polyethylene to create extra warmth and protect the soil. Another thing he took away is that chicken manure makes an excellent pineapple fertilizer.

In return, people from Benin taught Costa Rican farmers how to produce edible insects. As a spin-off of the programme, Benin’s Centre for Agriculture is now working with the International Potato Center in Lima, Peru, to maximize the use of roots and tubers.

Assuming responsibility

But, warns Adolphe Adjanohoun, no matter how much this pilot programme has brought the three countries, fact is that the money still came from ‘the north’. “Southern countries should also assume the financial responsibility. Only then will the partnership become truly independent. It’s about time we stop holding out our hands for money. When a project gets underway with foreign money, southern countries are still being looked after.”

For Yves Anthonin Ahouangan, who claims he learned more from his peers in Costa Rica than he ever could have from American technologies, progress is on its way, albeit on a bumpy road. “We used to get chicken manure for free, but now that people see it’s vital for my pineapples, we need to pay for it. I’ve now got my own flock of chicken to cut the costs and boost my pineapple production. A bigger issue is getting the polyethylene. It’s impossible to find in Benin, so we need to save up, go to Ghana and buy it in bulk. It’s the only way to keep things manageable financially.”

Open end

So far, the South-South cooperation pilot doesn’t have a sequal yet. Despite the enthusiasm of the countries involved and positive reactions from onlookers, no country has come up with enough money to carry the programme further.

South-South cooperation, the outcome

In three years’ time, the progrqamme between Benin, Costa Rica and Benin:

•Created 326 new companies
•Created 2324 jobs
•Had 8885 families apply clean technologies
•Converted 3505 families to organic farming