“Enabling” Development

After much deliberation I have a theory on why “development” continues to be largely on paper and documents rather than on the ground and why poverty continues to need alleviation! Practitioners, donor agencies, financial institutions, Governments are busy recasting frameworks and vocabulary in search of the “holy grail” of development and the “Aha” moment that will make the meek inherit the earth! Old wine is constantly being re-cast in new bottles – resources are being used to develop new versions of  “the Sustainable Livelihood Approach” (SLA in developmentspeak) so that more resources can be obtained to implement that perfect approach when and if it is developed.  Newer versions of these approaches and frameworks keep appearing – DfID, UNDP, ADB you name it everybody is tweaking it!

I am, however, still trying to figure out how to explain this to people whose lives this is ostensibly meant to “improve”. They have only one question – Why doesn’t anybody come and ask us what is our definition of development? How do they know what we need if they don’t talk to us directly? Copious documents, extensive discussions at seminars, reports and flexicharts replete with terms and complex jargon but no clear path on how to start work on the ground! Am I missing something? Are the people who ask these questions missing something?

Every one of the development agencies / donors have their “favourite” focal area or cause and will constantly look for accomplishments and successes in these areas only while insisting that they believe in a “holistic, community driven” approach and are moving away from a “sector-specific” approach. The Government has become adept at using developmentspeak as well – all policy documents and savvy party spokespersons on TV talk about “inclusive growth” “aam admi budgets” etc. while continuing fragmented programmes where at best one has no connection with another and at worst e.g. the Agriculture Ministry’s policies and programmes contradict one another or are contradicted by the focus of the Science and Technology Ministry’s programme. And of course the Ministry of Environment and Forests works on its own!!

In this chaos there is the small farmer who is confused to say the least and is excluded from subsidies and all the “development programmes” because he / she is small (owning land below a certain size for which facilities cannot be provided).  In Andhra Pradesh e.g. small farmers with land less than 1.5 acres cannot get access to subsidies for drip irrigation facilities from the Microirrigation Dept. to conserve water…..the Agriculture Dept.’s limit is 5 acres…..we need a new phrase now “exclusionary growth” – it perpetuates a natural washout process so that subalterns continue to be just that!


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