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News from Bonn

Fight Against Poverty
Better Economic Conditions
Food Security

Fighting Poverty Through Self-Help

One of the principal obstacles to more effective development aid is the way it is managed; in many developing countries governments do not provide sufficient scope for the participation of broad sectors of the population. Yet without this participation help cannot be "help towards self-help". Target-group oriented approaches are most likely to have lasting effects if the governments of Third World countries involve capable non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and if such participation is based on a voluntary decision. What is needed is therefore participation-oriented cooperation to fight poverty.

In 1983 a special working group was formed at the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation (BMZ) with the aim of finding possible ways of tackling the poverty problem.

As regards the situation in the developing countries, the working group has now concluded, after four years of work, that while the self help potential of the poor must not be overestimated, it is greater than allowed for in bilateral government development cooperation. And the potential is growing. This is due not least to decades of systematic promotion by and via NGOs, including a number of organizations from the Federal Republic of Germany.

A further finding was that, because development cooperation is designed for government partner organizations, the BMZ and government development cooperation organizations have hardly any access to self-help experience. Moreover, they also have insufficient knowledge of the innovative and productive potential of the rural and urban poor in the informal sector in developing countries.

The problem is compounded by a third factor: there is hardly any systematic cooperation between government development cooperation institutions and NGOs to tap this potential or put it to use in projects; and there are hardly any national or sector-specific concepts or other instruments for bilateral government development cooperation.

Aim and concept

As interpreted by the BMZ, the aim of "fighting poverty through self help" is to achieve a lasting improvement in the economic conditions of the lower 50 per cent of the population in the Third World, by mobilizing their productive capabilities and involving them in the development process.

The concept evolved by the working group set up to improve government instruments designed to achieve this aim is characterized by complementarily and an approach based on individual cases.

- While the NGOs should promote self-help potential and assist self-help organizations, government development cooperation should above all focus on creating, as general conditions, more scope for self-help, decentralization and administrative autonomy, as well as on improving public services.

- The governmental and non-governmental institutions involved in the process should bring their respective capabilities to bear, put existing experience of effective self-help into practice in projects - step by step and in dialogue - and should draw conceptual conclusions from this experience.

When this new approach is compared with present practice it becomes clear that the present system of assistance will be expanded by complementary cooperation, designed to achieve a common aim, between governmental and non-governmental institutions. In practice this means that those involved must proceed step by step, and in mutual agreement, in the country in question. By proceeding in this way it is possible to determine the overall scope of action for self-help and promoting self-help in each case, and to develop concrete approaches to promotion for Financial and Technical Cooperation.

The characteristic features of this procedure are the involvement of governmental and non-governmental organizations and conceptual cooperation between them.

This newly evolved approach provides for close cooperation between governmental and non-governmental institutions, including those from Third World countries. However, it makes no provision for direct financial promotion of Third World NGOs out of German government funds, as is typical of the current international trend in many instances.

Putting findings into practice

In order to ensure that the findings are also reflected in day-to-day project work by the end of the present decade, a joint working group was set up together with various non-governmental institutions. The group's combined efforts will focus on the following areas:

- savings and loans as instruments for promoting self-reliance among the poor;
- funds for promoting self-reliance among the poor;
- the land question in Latin America;
- the informal sector;
- fighting poverty through formal self-help organizations;
- conceptual approaches for infrastructure measures;
- nation-specific development cooperation at government level to fight poverty through self-help;
- promotion of human resources in fighting poverty through self help.

Taking appropriately designed projects as examples it can be shown that there is a broad potential for self-help and innovation, going beyond the mere financing instruments. However, only a fraction of this potential has so far been tapped. A part from the financing instruments, there is potential for organization, education, advice and methods. It has also become clear that it is increasingly possible to gain access to such experience, and to cooperation partners in Third World countries who are interested in conceptual cooperation with the BMZ and other government institutions.

It has also become apparent that it is increasingly possible to organize cooperation processes in which governmental and non-governmental development cooperation institutions here and in the developing countries, as well as a growing number of international organizations and other donors. participate and cooperate complementarily.


The approach that has been adopted, based on the efforts and experience of the BMZ and the institutions involved, is increasingly proving to be the right one. It is also attracting ever more attention and gaining increasing recognition, especially among major NGOs in Third World countries. Even so, the process has not so far had any lasting effect, nor found any satisfactory expression in project work. To date, not enough is known about how governments in the developing countries react. Above all, however, the process that has been initiated has not yet become firmly established in the BMZ and the institutions. Achieving this is the goal of the present phase in the group's work.

Better Conditions for Developing Countries

In the Federal Government's view, economic circumstances in developing countries should be further improved, in order to give private initiative more scope and to allow as great a part of the population as possible to take part in the development process.

In its most recent annual economic report, the Federal Government calls above all for an improvement of the economic and financial situation of the developing countries. It sees opportunities for this on the one hand in a higher level of integration of the developing countries in the world economy, and on the other in an opening of the industrialized countries' markets to products from Third World countries. Further possibilities are the creation of a favourable world economic climate, the mobilization of appropriate funds and support from international organizations.

Advice in economic matters

To support a sustained development process, the Federal Government has signalled its willingness to offer advice in matters of economic and foreign policy in the form of a dialogue with interested Third World nations. This will deal primarily with Direct private investment is also intended to help achieve a higher level of integration of the developing countries in the world economy. For this reason, the Federal Government has appealed to developing countries to improve conditions for direct investment. For its part, it intends to encourage direct investment through flexible application of its foreign trade and development policy instruments.

Debt problem

Concerning the debt problem, the Federal Government is aware of the important role played by the relationships between debtor countries and the commercial banks. Bonn is questions of the structure of the world economic system and economic policy, with the aim of promoting the inclusion of these nations in the free-market oriented, multilateral world trade system. In this way, according to the Federal Government, the efficiency of development aid can be further improved.

Keeping an eye on the new developments and financing methods now taking shape in Mexico, Brazil and Bolivia. However, the Federal Government avoids passing any judgment on this development, merely emphasizing that those immediately concerned have to decide on the use of these new procedures for themselves. Even so, the Federal Government intends to take the particularly difficult situation of the poorest highly indebted countries into account, for example by waiving claims from technical cooperation and by granting new financial aid in the form of grants only.

Food Security
Through Self-Help

At the end of last year, at an international conference on agricultural research and technological development, ministers and other high ranking participants from more than 30 countries in Africa, North America and Europe discussed how African and international agricultural research could help achieve food security in Africa. The meeting, which took place in Feldafing, near Munich, was organized by the German Federal Government, the World Bank and the German International Development Foundation for (DSE).

Volkmar Kohler, Parliamentary State Secretary to the Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation, stated in his opening address that Africa would certainly be able to feed itself if it developed its rural regions. The nations of Africa should implement an agricultural policy which made it appear worthwhile to individual farmers to produce more than required for their own needs.

Kohler appealed to all African nations, developing countries and international agricultural research centres to join forces in supporting African agricultural research and, by so doing, to help assure food supplies in Africa.