Nieuws - 2 maart 2011

Knapen: Agriculture is spearhead in development cooperation

Food security will be one of the priorities of the cabinet in the area of development cooperation, just as sustainable water management is. This was stated by state secretary Ben Knapen during a working visit to Wageningen.

Ben Knapen engaged in a discussion with Johan Sanders, Erik van Seventer and Aalt Dijkhuizen.
The government wants development cooperation to concentrate on themes which the Netherlands is good in globally. Besides agriculture and water management, these are health care and governance, or social management. In addition, the government wants to focus on a certain number of countries with a good track record. The list of countries will be made known in three weeks' time, Knapen said.
'Development cooperation has come under pressure in the Dutch society', commented the state secretary. 'Our good intentions are no longer good enough; we need to show results. We therefore want to move away from fragmented aid where the effects cannot be proven.'
In addition, development cooperation has to be demand-oriented, Knapen adds. No-one has ever asked the Netherlands for help in improving ICT or education during his overseas working visits; other countries are better in those matters. But people ask for Wageningen. No more money will be given for general education projects; instead, more will be given for practical training and capacity building in agriculture because these fall within the priority area of food security.
In a recent encounter, the state secretary met a potato farmer in Rwanda who had problems from phytophthora. The farmer praised Wageningen for its efforts to curb potato blight. Knapen said that research into such matters is important in raising food security. He noticed the frequency with which Wageningen was named in leading international newspapers last year: two thousand times. 'Wageningen is taken for granted within the Netherlands, but the outside world holds it in high esteem.' Just like Maxime Verhagen, who was in Wageningen at the end of January, Knapen sees a crucial role for the private sector in economic development. 'Many farmers in developing countries do not have market information, bank credit, fertilizers and good seeds. Public-private partnerships can help these farmers to gain access to the market.'
While the government is cutting costs on development cooperation as a whole, more money will be channelled to the four priority areas. Furthermore, Knapen will cut down on the number of countries in which the Netherlands carries out development projects. Currently, the Netherlands has projects in 38 African countries. It has been said that this will be reduced to 18 countries. Of these 18, five are priority countries in which more investments will be made. This list is not finalized yet, but two of the five countries may be Ethiopia and Ghana, where Wageningen has many ongoing projects.