Bilateral and multilateral cooperation: the key to sustainable development

Doing more with less - that is the challenge international development agencies face as official development assistance (ODA) declines. To meet this challenge, development agencies have recognized the importance of working together to take advantage of their respective strengths and avoid a costly duplication of efforts.

At a workshop held in Yokohama, Japan, 25-28 January, the Japan FAO Association and the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in cooperation with FAO brought together a broad range of development partners, both donors and recipients to examine the most appropriate ways of making the most of their resources. The workshop was the last in a five-year series of annual Multilateral Cooperation Workshops for Sustainable Agriculture, Forestry and Fishery Development.

"The event was a rare opportunity to bring multilateral organizations, bilateral donors and recipient countries together to discuss ways of coordinating development initiatives in an open and frank atmosphere" said Ms Mieko Ikegame, Chief of FAO's Service for Technical and Economic Cooperation among Developing Countries (TCDC/ECDC), in the Office of Coordination for Normative, Operational and Decentralized Activities, who delivered one of the workshop's keynote speeches. The workshop served to highlight the leading role FAO was playing in interagency cooperation and donor coordination, particularly in the field of rural development and food security.

Everyone at the workshop agreed that the development community's collaborative efforts should focus on poverty reduction through a broad-based approach to rural development. Sustainable development involves a range of interrelated disciplines, including agriculture, education, health, land reform, civil rights, resource management, and trade. So expertise from specialized agencies must be coordinated, not just to be cost effective but to have a real impact.

The workshop recommended that multilateral and bilateral agencies working in a given country work together to establish a common set of objectives: a national framework for development. Participants mentioned the importance of the UN's Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) as a basis for cooperation at the national level among agencies in the UN system with recipient governments. UNDAF was initiated in 1996 and is currently operating in 20 countries. The World Bank has adopted a similar approach with its new Comprehensive Development Framework, which it has launched on a pilot basis in 12 countries.

Development frameworks are important, but all the participants agreed that leadership, control and responsibility over the development of poverty reduction strategies must lie with the recipient countries.

The workshop also looked at ways of fostering improved cooperation between developing countries. For example, Viet Nam has made tremendous strides in food production and reducing poverty and has valuable expertise to offer other developing countries. However, as Mr Nguyen Qoc Dat, Senior Officer with the Vietnamese Department of International Cooperation, pointed out, a lack of financial resources makes any bilateral cooperation between Viet Nam and another developing country very difficult. Collaboration with multilateral and bilateral agencies is essential. In this regard, two of FAO's programmes, the Special Programme on Food Security and the Partnership Programmes for TCDC experts for have contributed in promoting south-south cooperation.

The workshop's theme was 'Possible and Desirable Coordination and Collaboration between Multilateral and Bilateral Cooperation for Sustainable Development'. In his presentation however, Mr Janos Lehel, Senior Programme Officer from FAO's Technical Cooperation Department, noted that "this coordination and collaboration is not only possible and desirable, it is indispensable." In his view, if the multilateral and bilateral agencies do not prove to the public that they can work together efficiently, there is the risk that support for international development will fade and that ODA will continue to decline.


18 February 2000

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