Archive for the ‘Links’ Category

Did you evaluate that?

My view is not that there should be an impact evaluation of each and every project which an aid agency supports. (I also don’t believe that a doctor should conduct a randomised control trial every time she prescribes a medicine.  What I want to know is that every medicine that is generally prescribed has been previously proven to be effective and safe by a rigorous study.)


That is Owen Barder talking about different motivations for supporting the results agenda in Aid. The rest of the paragraph contains sensible qualifications about when such evaluations should not be required. It is possibly not the extract that Owen is looking for people to take away from that post, and neither should it be taken as a blanket excuse for not assessing project impact. But nonetheless a useful reminder amidst the chorus of calls to evaluate almost everything, and that includes all those conservation biologists who seem more interested in their fine grain biodiversity indices than big picture statements like: how much coral reef do we have?


REDDoubtable concerns

There’s been a flurry of posts recently on that big new idea in international forest conservation, REDD+, which is struggling to be born, conjoined as it is with all the wrangling over a post-Kyoto settlement.

  • Angela Dewan makes the oft-overlooked point that even if forests make a return for local communities that doesn’t change their own aspirations for development which may not be fully compatible with forest conservation. No noble savages here!
  • James Mayers reminds us that governance is going to be critical in REDD+ implementation (there needs to be more than just trickle down to local communities), but that it’s not all bad news, and that in many countries local civil society is agitating for the sorts of rights that once would have been up to donors to impose.
  • At the heart of these governance concerns is that old chestnut, land tenure: both Indonesia and Mozambique are struggling, and many other countries too I should imagine. Ultimately, I think this is where the REDD+ battle will be won or lost, for it’s over land that REDD+ proponents will face their toughest opponents, few of whom will fight fair.
  • Finally, Isilda Nhantumbo has an eight point list on what would make a ‘good’ REDD+ initiative. All are good ideas, but I would caution against over-complicating things. The most important of these ideas should be regulated by governments; others could perhaps be incentivised by the markets. But let us be in no doubt, if you want to scale REDD+ beyond a few NGO-run project islands, then simplicity is the name of the game, and ‘goodness’ needs to be rewarded in the market for anyone to pay any serious attention.

I leave you with a fascinating but depressing titbit of gossip on the international climate change negotiations: of all the countries with something to gain from REDD+, nobody ranks higher than Brazil, and yet, behind the scenes, I hear Brazil are stymieing concluding discussions over the REDD+ component of UNFCCC which could then be finalised and ratified as a standalone treaty, whilst the rest of the stuff drags on. The reason: Brazil already have enough money from donors pouring into their Amazon fund that right now they do not need an international REDD+ treaty, but they (understandably!) do want a global agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions. I have no idea whether this is actually true, but I trust my source.

REDD Riposte

I’m a big believer in the principles behind REDD, namely:

  • Globally, forests are massively undervalued.
  • Carbon sequestration is one of those typically vital but undervalued services that forests perform for us.
  • Now that at least some people are prepared to pay something to abate carbon emissions, it seems crazy to ignore this possibility to value forests more appropriately.

That said, there are several different sides of the coin that bear more than a moment’s consideration. Here is a great satirical take on what REDD might look like in a more equitable world (I’m avidly awaiting part two). And this is a great golden oldie on the parallels with the mediaeval practice of buying indulgences.

Of course, there are lots of practical problems in implementing REDD too, but those are a topic for another post.

In case you missed them

Shotgun Shack hits about ten different nails on the head with her devastating exposé of the hypocrisy of BINGOs promoting gender issues in developing countries. The principles are easy, but the practice is far messier especially in culturally diverse international organisations. It brings to mind the age old conundrum of absolute human rights versus culturally sensitive relativism.

Next up, J from Tales from the Hood questions the value of “Innovation” departments in aid BINGOs. I don’t entirely agree with his definition of what makes for good innovation, but, hold on a minute, why would you want a dedicated innovation team working in a sector as diverse as international development? Don’t we keep on saying that blueprints are out and local adaptations are in? Innovation certainly can be a good thing, but for it to make sense it has to happen at the coalface: successful development needs to be grounded in local realities, otherwise we’ll just end up with more solutions in search of problems.

Then over at the Guardian Jonathan Glennie makes a bid for Economic Nonsense Statements of our Time – the Hall of Fame with this gem:

“every year the UK exports 34,000 cuddly toys to New Zealand, and every year we import the same number. From New Zealand. Ecologically mad, but economically sane, in terms of today’s model.”

Dude, I think you’ll find they’re not the same toys. This is economic specialization. It’s a good thing, and makes sense on anyone’s model. Plus the carbon costs of shipping the toys (34,000 doesn’t sound that much to me) will be a small fraction of the carbon emitted from 34,000 parents driving home from the shops where they bought them.

Finally, a shout out for the Ol Lentille Trust blog, that I’ve been enjoying recently. I cannot say I know the project personally, but I like what I read, with some good news stories of positive interventions on the ground that combine conservation, economic development (i.e. good business) and cultural sensitivity. Good luck to you guys!


Some great cartoons on Conservation Bytes (with bigger archive here). I can’t say I agree with all the points being made, but I do like some of  the humour!

In case you missed them – the CdI edition

A few more things that caught my eye during my post-festive season catch-up on happenings in the blogosphere.

  1. Jina Moore gets out the dictionary on the current turmoil in Côte d’Ivoire – a must read.
  2. Charles Onyango-Obbo wonders whether we might be heading towards the inevitable in Côte d’Ivoire, and whether, in that respect, that electoral strife might be a good thing. (H/T Jina Moore in an earlier post.)
  3. Chris Blattman features various others’ suggestions that put that idea to shame.

Overall, despite there being reasons for optimism about the way the rest of the world has got its act together over Côte d’Ivoire (in contrast to the dithering over similar electoral shenanigans in Kenya a couple of years ago), it does rather seem as if there is no easy option. Even if one accepts the rather one-sided view of things which predominates in the Western media – Outtara is surely no saint – the more satisfying, morally-robust route to military intervention seems to threaten catastrophe on the ground. (Anyone remember Iraq?) And promising Gbagbo an amnesty won’t do much to soothe the worries of his various lieutenants and lesser supporters who are likely equally guilty of various human rights variations.

I’m not sure I hold out too much hope for Côte d’Ivoire; from my remote (and uninformed) vantage point it seems likely to be rather messy for some time to come. But an international community that stays firm may deter the next African leader who thinks they can steal an election. Popular tyrants like Kagame and Zenawi will stay in power because, well, they’re still pretty popular amongst wide swathes of their respective countrymen, but more contested strong man polities (Madagascar? H/T to Chris Blattman and various others who have already made this point) may give more consideration to stepping back from the brink before it is too late. Ultimately, to me, that is the appeal of the ICC. There may not be much we can do about the present generation of oppressors come mass murderers, but we can put off the next generation, and that is a worthy goal.

As for redrawing Africa’s borders, we should not forget what a complex place it is. We should remember the chaos of Europe’s religious wars following the Reformation, as well as more recent tragedies over the partition of India and the disintegration of Yugoslavia. Determined leaders may attempt to create facts on the ground, but things are going to have to get very messy indeed before splitting most countries will make sense – so messy that we should be intervening long before it gets that bad. From a perspective of complete ignorance I would suggest one possible exception: DR Congo just seems too vast and unmanageable a place that division might just be the only feasible option.

Of course, on most if not all of the above I have little actual experience, so please feel free to put me to rights in the comments section below. Alternatively just go and read people like Jina Moore and Laura Seay who do know what they’re talking about.

In case you missed them

I don’t normally post raw links to other posts, but 3 stories today struck me particularly, and I thought were worth sharing:

I hope you enjoy them.

The Beautiful side of Conservation & Development

The by-line to this blog is “The ugly side of conservation and development”. But it doesn’t always have to be ugly.

Check out these gorgeous pics. I don’t know anything about the proposed oil pipeline development that they are objecting to, though the whole tar sands project is about as bad as fossil fuels extraction can get, with frankly obscene levels of carbon emissions. But you can certainly enjoy the photos and tapping into that enjoyment (and sheer awe!) of the natural spectacular is the first objective of the project there.

(HT: Richard Black)

%d bloggers like this: