The Bonn conference on the ‘nexus’ between food, energy and water security closed last Friday. Following on from my last blog post on this, some thoughts on the relevance to Practical Action’s work.
The relevance of Practical Action’s work to future international development policy
Listening to the various sessions of this conference brought home to me the relevance of Practical Action’s work to these debates and to the trends being set out in the new EC development policy. Our work on energy access, agriculture and food, and urban water, sanitation and waste map directly onto the three securities being discussed here and two (energy and agriculture and food) map directly onto the main priorities of the EC’s ‘agenda for change’. With the UN Secretary General’s backing, energy is likely to be a key topic at the Rio+ 20 summit and so a major component of development debates and policies in the coming years. Climate change and the growing realisation about the inter-linkages between energy, water and food mean these two subjects are also likely to be increasingly at the centre of international development policies and priorities.
I like to think perhaps the world is in fact catching up with us. We should all be proud of the part we have played, however small, in the growing realisation globally that a sustainable future for all cannot be achieved without (a) addressing natural resource use by everyone on the planet and (b) doing this at the same time as addressing global poverty.
Speaking with a stronger voice
But just because there is more interest amongst governments and the main development agencies in our areas of expertise doesn’t mean that our job is done. Although many of the right noises are being made about the need to address poverty, to support small holder farmers and to provide access to energy services for all, there is still plenty of room for disagreement over ‘how’.
The message underlying the new EC agenda for change and many of the presentations at this Bonn conference was that these problems will be addressed through growth and a trickle down of benefits to the poor, an approach we and many others believe simply does not work . There were still at least three models of agriculture being discussed at the conference, only one of which really looks at the role of food production as a livelihood for millions of poor people and as an expression of culture. And the conference was full of technical fixes to technical problems but notably quiet on the human aspects of development and the need for poor people’s voices to be heard and their interests to be better represented in some of these debates.
There is still plenty of room for a voice that talks about technology justice and wellbeing in these discussions. And there is plenty of room for Practical Action to work with other like-minded organisations, to use the momentum and potential that is coming from increased international attention on the links between food, water, energy and poverty, to push for real and substantial change that actually benefits the poor.
And, of course, there is still plenty of real work for us to do on the ground in developing countries to turn policy rhetoric into something real.