News - May 11, 2011

Pronk looks back on success of South-South collaboration

Joris Tielens

An exchange of knowledge and experience between countries can be at least as effective as development aid from the north to the south. This is the lesson to be drawn from the collaboration between Benin, Bhutan and Costa Rica, it was claimed yesterday in Wageningen.

Farmers and producers from these three countries visited each other and exchanged tips on sustainability. For example, the Bhutanese helped the Costa Ricans with the cultivation of red rice and Shiitake mushrooms, the Beninese introduced people to the concept of edible insects, and farmers in Benin learned from their Costa Rican colleagues about the cultivation and marketing of organic pineapples. All on the basis of equality, reciprocity and participation. The 36 projects generated thousands of jobs and hundreds of new companies and products, the manager of the programme in Costa Rica, Mariannella Feoli, told Wageningen students and researchers.
The collaboration programme  between Benin, Bhutan and Costa Rica came out of the sustainable development agreements that the then Minister of Development Cooperation Jan Pronk made between the Netherlands and these countries. Pronk came to Wageningen yesterday to look back on the success of the programme, but he made a somewhat bitter impression. Originally the Netherlands was not just the financier but also a participant in the programme. That meant that the Netherlands did not just provide knowledge and aid, but that Bhutanese paid visits to the Netherlands to argue for the importance of 'Gross National Happiness' as opposed to 'Gross National Product', and that farmers in Zeeland were advised by farmers from Costa Rica. But this did not go down very well with the majority in the Dutch parliament, and Pronk's fellow party member terminated the programme, which continued without the Netherlands after 2007.
'It is  good to see what a success the programme has been for Benin, Bhutan and Costa Rica', says Pronk now. 'The Netherlands has not had that success. And one of the reasons was the arrogance of the Dutch. I reproach myself for not having been able to convince enough other people to carry on with it in the Netherlands too.'
Mariannella Feoli will be touring the Netherlands over the coming weeks to share her results, in the hope of attracting new financiers and partners - from Europe too - for the programme. She will be visiting the Dutch and the European parliaments and there will be a photo exhibition in The Hague.