Thursday, 8 January 2009

'Bottom-Up' Development in Barlonyo

I've been wanting to post this video for a while but have had to wait for a decent Internet connection back in London. In development policy discussions one of the debates you will hear most often is between the 'top-down' and 'bottom-up' approach. Unhelpful pieces of jargon perhaps, but the underlying concepts are central to how you think foreign aid money should be spent and what you consider to be the more effective government approach.

This video shows a demonstration of a classic 'bottom-up' piece of development work in a community that I have worked with on several occasions in the village of Barlonyo, in the Lira district of Northern Uganda. Barlonyo was the site of one of the worst LRA massacres in 2004 and has also had to deal with cattle-rustling from neighbouring regions.

Action Aid asked the people what interventions could help them recover from the LRA and improve the livelihoods of the poorest in the community. Ox-ploughs and oxen were at the top of the list and so we began distributing them to small-holder farmers. The advantages are fairly obvious but have had a remarkable effect on the village's food production. Larger fields can be ploughed with less labour, allowing the women (who do the vast majority of agricultural labour work in Uganda) to grow more food and subsequently have a greater surplus to sell at the market. The more disposal income that families have, the more of their children can continue to secondary school and thus a cycle of development is initiated.

The purpose of this post is not to say, however, that all mega development projects (think dams, motorways and airports) are bad. It is to point out that small-scale local interventions can be incredibly effective and much cheaper in comparison. Of course the huge structural barriers to sustainable global development are not being challenged but there should always be room in public policy for providing clear, measurable benefit to the daily lives of the poorest members in society.