FAO Programme for the transfer of low-cost simple technologies to the hungry: South-South Cooperation

Event objective

This side event will provide an informal forum for discussion on South-South Cooperation within the framework of the Special Programme for Food Security (SPFS). In particular, the event will enable the sharing of experience between countries participating in South-South Cooperation (SSC), including providers of experts, host countries and donors. It will also provide an opportunity for other interested parties to become acquainted with the South-South Cooperation arrangements as they are being applied in the SPFS.


Attainment of the 1996 World Food Summit goal of halving the number of undernourished people by 2015 calls for concerted efforts to raise food production by small-scale farmers and to broaden access to food.
In spite of this commitment, too little purposeful action has been taken towards eradicating hunger and 800 million people, almost one person in seven, still do not have enough to eat.
Although impressive agricultural advances have been achieved in many developing countries, food production has failed to keep up with the needs of a rapidly growing and increasingly urban population. Most of the world's hungry people live in low-income food-deficit countries (LIFDCs). For many of these countries, one of the best options for improving food security and nutrition is to increase agricultural production by small farmers. Higher output means greater self-reliance. In turn, self-reliance stimulates economic growth in those rural areas where the bulk of the world's chronically undernourished people live.

The Special Programme for Food Security (SPFS)

It was against this background that the SPFS was launched by FAO in 1994 and its concept was endorsed by the World Food Summit in November 1996. The SPFS, now operational in 69 countries, aims at empowering groups of small farmers and poor urban families to meet their food needs, to diagnose the constraints and opportunities which they face and to identify, test and take up viable, locally adapted and sustainable options for addressing them. The focus is on low-cost innovations and creation of local institutional capacities to continue the process, looking at food security from the perspective of the community as a whole, including vulnerable groups.

Based on locally defined priorities, the SPFS Phase I usually covers one or more of the following four components:

water and soil management, including water harvesting, on-farm water management, small scale irrigation and drainage, improving soil conditions and avoiding soil erosion; ii) raising productivity on a sustainable basis, including use of improved varieties, integrated plant nutrient and pest management systems, post-harvest technologies; iii) farm diversification to improve household nutrition and income, usually with a focus on aquaculture, artisanal fisheries and small short-cycle livestock; and iv) participative study of socio-economic constraints to increased productivity, production and income, including factors affecting production as well as limitations of access to natural resources due to gender, ethnicity and other factors.

SPFS Phase II is focused on: adjusting policies affecting food security; developing a medium-term programme of agricultural investment; and preparation of feasibility studies of bankable projects.

South-South Cooperation (SSC)

The SPFS is a nationally owned programme, which is implemented by local experts with limited technical supervision from FAO. However, where appropriate, it can benefit from the experience and expertise of other developing countries through the SSC initiative.

The South-South Cooperation initiative was launched in 1996 within the framework of the SPFS. It aims to encourage solidarity between developing countries, allowing the host countries to benefit from the experience and expertise of other developing countries in the implementation of SPFS pilot activities.

This approach to SSC differs from conventional technical assistance models in a number of important ways:

unit costs are very much lower: typically US$12 000 annually for experts and US$7 200 per year for technicians, compared to US$120 000 to US$200 000 per year for conventional North-South technical assistance;
costs of South-South Cooperation are shared between the participating developing countries and bilateral and multilateral donors, with the support of FAO (see Annex 1);
most SSC staff are technicians with long practical field experience in their own countries;
almost all SSC staff are assigned to work directly with local field staff and farmers in promoting innovation: most live in the villages and only a few work out of offices in the capital city;
the low unit cost makes it possible to engage relatively large numbers of SSC staff to work on SPFS projects.

The SSC initiative has gained considerable momentum since it was launched. Some 26 cooperation agreements, in which source countries have committed themselves to provide up to 2 600 experts and field technicians to other developing countries have been signed (Annex 2), and about 400 SSC experts and technicians are already working in the field. Some of the early agreements are due to end this year, with technicians being required to train local staff and farmers before they return home.

The Side Event provides a good opportunity to take stock of the progress so far achieved with this highly innovative approach to technical cooperation, as seen from the perspective of each of the partners. It is expected that the discussion will lead to practical suggestions on how to increase the impact of SSC teams which can be addressed in future agreements.

Annex 1: Summary of main terms and conditions


Cooperating Country


Host Country


Proposes candidates

Ensures screening of candidates

Approves candidates


Experts and field technicians remain civil servants of their home country while on mission

Services of experts and field technicians are retained under FAO's Special Service Agreement


Remuneration and indemnities

Continues to pay salary, social insurance and other remuneration to which the experts and field technicians have a right in their home country

Pays a subsistence allowance equivalent to US$700/month to each expert and to US$300/month1 to each field technician

Pays the equivalent of US$300/month2 for each expert and field technician


Pays for travel in home-country

Provides return air tickets for international travel

Covers local and regional travelling expenses3



Provides a one time installation grant equivalent to US$300 to each expert and field technician

Provides adequate accommodation including utilities

Annex 2: Tripartite agreements signed

Host Country

Cooperating country

Date signed

Guinea Bissau



Congo Republic of

Viet Nam



Viet Nam























Cape Verde



Equatorial Guinea





16 May 00








Viet Nam










18 May 99



10 May 99


Viet Nam


Burkina Faso













Viet Nam


14 further agreements have been formulated and are expected to be signed soon.


Agricultural development has always depended on the transfer of ideas and technologies around the globe. Many of the most important crops grown and consumed in Europe- potatoes, tomatoes and tobacco, for instance - were introduced from the Americas after Christopher Columbus sailed the Atlantic. Many fruit crops came via Islamic trade routes. Maize, the most important staple food in Africa, came from Mexico. And the mainstay of farming in North America, wheat, moved across the ocean in the opposite direction.

Since the second world war, technical assistance from specialists from developed countries has played a vital role in the modernisation of agriculture in the developing world. Many FAO development projects were managed and staffed by expatriates who were assigned for several years to live and work on project sites. The need for this type of assistance, however, has fallen with the rapid growth in the number of well trained specialists - whether agronomists, foresters, engineers or fishermen - now working in their own countries of origin. The "old" model of long-term resident technical assistance has also become unaffordable for most developing countries, given the relatively high salary expectations of specialists from the North, compared with those of equally well qualified persons born and living in developing countries.

The need to stimulate innovation and the transfer of technology between countries, however, remains. Probably the most relevant sources of practical ideas for farmers in one developing country are the farmers and experts who have to face similar problems in other developing countries. Recognising this, FAO has been promoting the concept of South-South Cooperation in relation to its Special Programme for Food Security (SPFS).

Over the past 4 years, 26 cooperation agreements have been signed. These are bringing Indian technicians and experts to work in Eritrea; Vietnamese to Madagascar and Senegal; Chinese to Ethiopia and to Bangladesh, and Bangladeshis to The Gambia. Already there are around 400 South-South technicians in the field, paid for jointly by their country of origin and the host country with a modest contribution by FAO or a donor. The number is expected to increase rapidly in the coming years.

In contrast to North-South technical assistance, these are people who live out in the villages, working directly with local technicians and farmers, not caught up in endless meetings in the capital city or writing voluminous reports. The very presence of outsiders in rural communities not used to seeing foreigners is an important stimulus for change. What is more important, however, is that they are all bringing skills and practical experience relevant to the local scene - raising the yields of rice, better bee-keeping methods, new ways of raising fish, knowledge of how to store and process crops, fish and meats safely, and so on. These skills are passed on to the communities in which they work and a multiplier effect is achieved through the training of local farmers and technicians who can spread the word to others after the foreigners have gone back home.

The Side Event on South-South Cooperation will provide an opportunity to take stock of the experience to date with this exciting and original approach to promoting innovation in agriculture. Speakers from both source and host countries will share their experiences, and this will be followed by an open discussion from which we hope ideas will emerge which will lead to a still stronger programme.

1 These amounts are paid to the first group of experts and technicians for a few months in order to launch the project. Then, FAO negotiates the payment to experts and technicians through bilateral or multilateral support.

2 This amount is a Government's obligation, which should negotiate, with the assistance of FAO, the payment through bilateral or multilateral support, especially with subsidies or loans.

3 Experts and field technicians will be provided with means of transport (vehicles, motorcycles) for official duties which will be funded by bilateral or multilateral contributions received for the Special Programme.


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FAO, 2002