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Speed read

  • Least developed countries are leading in community approaches to development

  • They need better communication with richer nations — and each other — to highlight this expertise

  • Events such as the global economic crisis are helping to break down barriers

The least developed countries (LDCs) — those nations with the lowest socioeconomic indicators — have plenty to offer the sustainable development agenda, but they must organise themselves effectively to play a significant role, a briefing paper by the LDC Independent Expert Group reports. 

In particular, LDCs need two-way knowledge exchange with more developed nations to promote their expertise in innovation, environmental stewardship and local governance, according to the paper, 'Taking a lead on the post-2015 agenda: priorities for least developed countries', published last week (24 June).   

It finds that although these nations lack top-down governance, they are leading in community approaches to development, with local institutions and social networks providing powerful grassroots movements to adapt to issues such as climate change.
 
"The traditional approach to development has always been that the technology and knowledge has to come from economically developed countries," says Essam Yassin Mohammed, a researcher at the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), and a member of the expert group, which was launched by the IIED in May.

"There are lessons to be learnt from our experiences that we feel need to be recognised," he tells SciDev.Net.

LDCs have many ideas that can meet the sustainable development agenda, such as in innovation, Mohammed says.

Examples are the use in Africa of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in mobile banking and commodity trading, and irrigation schemes that combat the impacts of climate change in Nepal. Community forestry schemes in Nepal and other countries show successful environmental stewardship by these nations, he says.

But they still urgently need input from richer countries, particularly for technology transfer, and so two-way knowledge exchange is essential, says Mohammed. Relationships with middle-income countries will be key, as they have recently gone through the same development changes that currently face LDCs.

But if these nations are to play an important role in development they must also learn to work together and with other marginalised groups, such as small island developing states, the briefing says. There must be a greater spirit of cooperation and solidarity to solve global problems.

Mohammed is positive about the ability of LDCs to work in the international community, citing involvement with the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) as evidence. "If we have spoken with a coherent voice in the IPCC there is no reason why we cannot do it with the post-2015 agenda."

As for solidarity among nations, there has been a drastic shift in outlook during the ongoing global economic crisis and since the Japanese tsunami — two events that shocked the developed world into accepting it is vulnerable as well, says Muhammad.

This has helped to shake up the traditional "us" and "them" relationship between rich and poor nations, he adds.

Sabina Alkire, director of the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative, United Kingdom, welcomes the many "positive aspects" of the paper, including the call for solidarity and the need to make rapid progress by leaving behind the usual aid for development one-way street.

The fact that some of the poorest countries have gone further than more well-off countries in reducing non-income poverty factors, such as schooling, healthcare and sanitation, makes an excellent case for taking these nations seriously, she tells SciDev.Net.

But it does not go far enough, she believes.

It omits the empowerment of women and their leadership as an area of LDC expertise, says Alkire, who would have like the expert group to address this issue.

Link to briefing paper


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