The Good and Bad of Development
Ghana — Uniterra
If studying International Development has taught me anything, it has been to be critical of everything. This can be uncomfortable at times, as much of what we critique is the field of development itself. Should development as a field even exist if it feeds into wealthier countries neocolonial agendas (such as a way for them to hold on to power and brand it as ‘aid’)? Yet, the more optimistic part of me clings to the idea that development could be a bridge between some of the vast inequalities in the world—between men and women, between races, between the North and South, and so forth.
With this battle of ethics in the back of my mind, I was unsure what to expect when I arrived in Ghana for an eight-month placement to finish my degree in International Development. So far, I am still conflicted. I see both the good and the bad.
Let’s start with the bad—development is a continuation of colonialism.
Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society organizations (CSOs) are reliant upon their donors to survive. These donors are typically large multilateral institutions (such as the World Bank) or developed nations. The work of NGOs and CSOs is thus restricted to what these donors are willing to fund. Thus, even if these NGOs and CSOs are locally founded with local staff, the projects that they carry out are those on the Western agenda. Unfortunately, this can mean that what is important in a local context is considered ‘second rate’ or even a hindrance to what is important to the donors. Development is neocolonialism—it is a power grab disguised as a hand out.
That’s the bad (some of it, anyways). Now, let’s try to make this blog a little more optimistic.
Development can be a way to reverse impacts of colonialism.
RAINS, the organization that I am volunteering for in Ghana, has worked for over 20 years in the Northern Region. Their general objective is to empower vulnerable people, and they have various programs currently in operation that work towards this goal. The program I will discuss today is Sewoh, run in partnership with the African Biodiversity Network.
Northern Ghana is under severe threat from climate change. It is making the rainy and dry seasons unpredictable, with increased intensity of droughts and floods.1 Further, the region is already grappling with food insecurity2: Malnutrition and stunting impact 33 percent of children under the age of five.1 In the past decades, there has been an increase in imported seed varieties and chemical fertilizers in Northern Ghana. My co-workers have told me that these new farming technologies are not adaptable to the impacts of climate change.
How does Sewoh strive solve this problem? With a very local and grassroots solution: indigenous seeds.
At an indigenous seed fair that RAINS coordinated, Mr. Alhassan Philip, a retired Agriculture Officer of 45 years, explained the benefits of indigenous seeds to me: “They are tolerant to climate change, they have short maturing periods, and they contain a lot of…nutrients.”
Programs like Sewoh are community focused, and not donor focused. Values that are important to the beneficiaries of the program are regarded, and not Western values. It is a local solution to a global problem. It is reversing the impacts of colonialism as it seeks to revive traditional practices.
I do not see the ‘bad’ side of development disappearing anytime soon. But I am hopeful that more and more of the ‘good’ development projects will appear over time. In the meantime, I am caught in the crosshairs of this ethical dilemma.
1World Food Programme. (2018). Ghana. Where we work. Retrieved from www1.wfp.org/countries/ghana
2World Food Programme. (2018, May 29). New study identifies gaps and proposes roadmap to ensure Ghana achieves Zero Hunger by 2030. News. Retrieved from https://www.wfp.org/news/news-release/new-study-identifies-gaps-and-proposes-roadmap-ensure-ghana-achieves-zero-hunger-2