Capacity Development for Agriculture and Rural Sectors: Lessons and Future Directions

Nov 10, 2008 - 05:00 am UTC to Nov 11, 2008 - 05:00 pm UTC

Strengthening local capacities and institutions remains a major challenge for the effective design and implementation of agricultural and rural development programs and policies in developing countries. Sustainable capacity development is also central to making aid work on the ground. Three factors have motivated InWEnt Capacity Building International and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) to collaborate and organize a workshop on capacity development in agriculture and rural development. The first relates to achieving the Millennium Development Goal of halving world poverty by 2015. Since three quarters of the world’s poor live in rural areas and most depend either directly or indirectly on agriculture for their livelihoods,1 any progress toward achieving the MDGs will necessarily involve accelerated rural poverty reduction through sustainable increases in agricultural productivity and output and rural development more generally.

Second, the growing worldwide food and agricultural crisis threatens to deepen poverty, food insecurity (rural and urban), malnutrition and hunger. This is partly because, in the last two decades, agriculture and rural development slipped off the priority list of development assistance. When the successes of the green revolution in Asia and Latin America seemed to have run their course and proved to be hard to replicate in Africa, in-country and international development assistance programs turned their attention elsewhere leading to years of neglect and underinvestment in the agricultural sector. It is clear this trend needs to be reversed. The questions are: what kinds of development assistance and investments can be made to improve agricultural productivity, output, and food security in developing and transition countries and what kinds of individual and organizational capacities must be in place to make effective use of these new investments?

This leads to a third factor and growing concern: how to give high level recognition to the role of capacity building in aid effectiveness and sustainable development? The 2005 Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness identified capacity constraints as one of the central factors impeding progress in achieving the Millennium Development Goals. Billion of dollars have been spent yearly on technical cooperation, the bulk of which is ostensibly aimed at capacity development.2 Despite the size of these inputs, the Development Assistance Committee of the OECD reports that “capacity development has been one of the least responsive targets of donorassistance,” and that “public sector management and institutions – key indicators of public capacity – have lagged behind all other MDG benchmarks”.3

These findings have led to a flurry of writing, websites, and workshops on capacity development, primarily as it relates to public sector management and governance at the national and donor levels.4 Yet a central message from this work is that capacity development needs to be addressed not only at the country level, but also as a technical issue at the sector or thematic level. A related message is that local training, education, and research institutions need to be strengthened and better integrated into governance and development processes. The planned InWEnt-IFPRI Workshop goal is to further learning in these areas. The Workshop will address four broad areas of interest.

What are the current trends in agriculture and rural development? How do local capacities and institutions influence the process of agricultural and rural development? What are current capacity development and investment strategies and how do they reflect lessons learned from the past?
What kinds of enabling environments are needed for effective capacity development? What role do citizens and CSOs play in reforming the enabling environment and making the public sector more accountable and better at rural service delivery? How will regional cooperation, peer reviews and networking, and South-to-South cooperation help make effective use of and build local capacity and strengthen the enabling environment?
What broad lessons have we learnt from investing in public sector management? What role and functions should agriculture ministries play in helping agricultural sectors to improve output and productivity and become more sustainable? What capacities do they need to fulfill these functions? What do donors need to do to improve their ability to strengthen capacity at the individual, organizational and national levels?
What works and what does not work in building individual skills in agriculture and why? What training instruments have been the most effective and what types are specifically required in agriculture? What role does leadership play in developing local and organization capacities in rural areas? What comprises effective leadership training?
The two day workshop in Feldafing, Germany will provide opportunities for discussing these issues and others. The hope is that these discussions will help contribute to the learning on the effectiveness and sustainability of capacity building investments in agriculture and rural areas.

World Bank (2007) Agriculture for Development, Washington DC, The World Bank.
OECD (2006) The Challenge of Capacity Development: Working Toward Good Practice, DAC Guideline and Reference Series, Paris, OECD
Global Monitoring Report (2004) Policies and Actions for Achieving the MDGs and Related Outcomes, Washington DC, Development Committee, World Bank and International Monetary Fund. 4. See, for example, Capacity Development: Accra and Beyond” DAC/OECD/BMZ sponsored Bonn Workshop 15-16 May 2008; G8 Summit-Toyako Declaration on Global Food Security, July 8th, 2008; Conference on Aid Effectiveness, September 2-4, Accra, Ghana