The last few weeks were marked by a large number of conferences in the Netherlands and globally leading up to the Financing for Development conference later this month in Addis Ababa. In The Netherlands the No More Food to Waste conference of the Ministry of Economic Affairs took center stage this time, preceded by a meeting of the Post Harvest Network at the same Ministry and followed by the Food First conference organized by the Rabobank Foundation. Finally the International Tax Conference was held with a good presence from the Ministry of Finance and folk from all four angles of the Dutch Diamond (government offices, knowledge industries, civil society organizations and the corporate world), discussing Domestic Resource Mobilization (DMR) as well as tax avoidance and tax evasion. The series started of with the Raising the Game debate in De Balie in Amsterdam, a cheerful meet-up between the Minister of Foreign Affairs and her senior staff and a good number of civil society organizations on financing the post-2015 agenda.
All in all it yielded a good number of high quality meals (of which no food went to waste!) as well as a reasonable overview of the current state of affairs with regard to achieving policy coherence within the Dutch government. The Minister of Aid and Trade (Lilianne Ploumen) was tasked with coaching her colleagues in the cabinet to a more coherent policy agenda that would combine notions of international solidarity with trade relations and comparitive advantage.
Inter-Agency Task Forces
What helped her in the process was the fact that also at the UN some policy coherence objectives were set at the start of this century resulting in the One UN approach initiated at the time by Koffi Annan. I still remember how he visited the Indian UN facilities introducing this new policy. In my years in Ethiopia I witnessed the first baby-steps in implementation. Today there are a good number of Inter-Agency Coordination Groups taking on issues that are multidimensional in their complexity and therefore require different parties to work together on getting to solutions. To name a few: the Zero Hunger Challenge in 2012 aiming at building sustainable food systems that could provide adequate nutritious food to all people all year round while supporting smallholder and family farmers. Also worth mentioning is the Sustainable Production and Consumption issue that keeps coming up. A recent UNEP note on the issue pointed to food loss and waste as the most striking evidence of the dysfunction of our production and consumption patterns.
The Post Harvest Network represents a good attempt to bring together business, science and government around the issue of post-harvest losses. Wageningen University is obviously much involved in sustaining the momentum for this network as global concerns arise around the figures that surround this issue. The presenters were immediately challenged by Prof. Ruerd Ruben of Wageningen who stated that the numbers that usually feature have never been verified and would deserve some fine research as so many people use the figures in advocacy around food losses linked to the food security agenda. Next Monday I was to see the same people again at the No More Food to Waste conference, bringing together a vast network of ministers, secretaries of states, ambassadors and their technical staff concerned with food and agriculture. The message was loud and clear: The Dutch have a lot of expertise in this field and innovative entrepreneurs were allowed taking the stage, presenting their solution to the existence of surpluses with initiatives like SURplus and Kromkommer. During one of the breaks I had a conversation with one of the ambassadors who wanted to raise a question, but felt not in a position to do this as a diplomat. It was about the purposeful destruction of fresh produce to increase market price. It just demonstrated how diplomats are constraint to speak their mind. It then requires civil society organizations or academia to table the issues.
Next Monday it was Rabobank's turn to share their take on development financing through their FoodFirst conference on the Future of Farming and Food Security in Africa attended by no one less than H.M. Queen Maxima and many of my former students at Van Hall Larenstein as well as students from Twente University who played a pivotal role inspiring both panelists and audience with their daring questions and firm opinions. It showed once again how the Netherlands Fellowship Program payed off in terms of having this critical crowd attending our universities in the Netherlands, ensuring our teachers stay up-to-date with situations all over the world. This conference capitalized the presence of the international classroom in the Netherlands.
The end of my preparations for Addis Ababa was a few days ago at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs where Minister Ploumen hosted a conference entitled "Pay your Taxes where you Add Value" co-organized by Groningen University, Tilburg University and VBDO. Also here I was happy to see a few international scholars doing their PhD in the Netherlands featuring at the panel discussions, presenting the day-to-day realities on taxation systems in countries like Rwanda, Vietnam and Brazil. Ploumen's speech at the start of the day made it very clear what the purpose was of paying attention to taxation systems. If for one minute you may think this is about good governance, forget it. Direct quote: "To finance their share of the SDGs, developing countries will have to increase the amount of tax they collect(..)". In other words, developing countries should effectively engage in domestic resource mobilization (frequently featuring during the day) and they need effective taxation systems to do so. As this statement would immediately back-fire on many developed countries as they all have negotiated special tax exemption arrangement for their companies investing abroad, Ploumen was quick to mention that 23 countries were offered new terms and conditions for the bilateral tax arrangements that would somehow deal with this reality. So far 10 countries have accepted the offer and started a process of renegotiating their tax provisions, turning the Netherlands as a first mover of the international donor community. Nevertheless Ploumen should be applauded for her courage and her efforts to get the Dutch Ministry of Finance deliver on her agenda, taking care of all the negotiations, finding the OECD at her side.
However, what will be the effect of all this next week in Addis Ababa? Just have a look at the programme and list of side-meetings and you may have a feel of where things are going. The Dutch are involved in three side meetings. One co-organized with the Mexican co-chairs of the Global Partnership on Effective Development Cooperation on engaging philanthropy. One together with IFAD, Ireland and Rwanda on Investing in Rural People for Inclusive and Sustainable Transformation. And a third one building on the international tax conference in the Netherlands focussing on innovative financing and domestic resource mobilization linked to Water and Sanitation for all. It seems a lot of focus is on what is called 'innovative' financing, which basically means to have others pay as well.
When reviewing the complete list of side-events three of them I would like to highlight. The PeopleToPeople session on Investing in Quality of Higher Educationa and Skills. This Ethiopian initiative points to one of the areas where I think most peace dividend is being achieved: people connecting to people cross-boundary. Experiencing different cultures, learning to accept differences and cherishing a variety of skills and experiences within newly developed networks. I hope Addis will give this sympathetic initiative the impetus it deserves. The second session that triggered me is the one lead by Bangladesh on the relevance of regional platforms, bridging the missing middle between international discourse and local realities. The third one that would get my special interest is the one on the role of the social and solidarity economy as a way to finance the SDGs co-organized by France, Colombia and Ecuador linked to the Mont Blanc Meetings and moderated by the UN Task Force on Social and Solidarity Economy (TFSSE). The SSE taskforce is another off-spring of the One-UN approach fostering inter-agency collaboration. According to their own website SSE holds considerable promise for addressing the economic, social and environmental integrated approaches of sustainable development.
Tomorrow I am hoping to follow the proceedings of the Oslo Summit on Education for Development (online this time #edusummitoslo) already pointing to the huge funding gap in education. While the whole world is mobilizing domestic resources for development financing, education has fallen off the table of policy makers. Hope their voices will be echoed in Addis. Because talking about policy coherence amidst all inter-agency task forces, education outcomes remain top-priority for most developing countries as the unfinished agenda.
You may wonder: What will all these meetings deliver? What are they about? What do they resemble? For me these conferences offered an opportunity to liaison with many decision makers in thematic areas relevant to the Dutch. It is much easier to get to talk to a Minister outside his/her home country at an international conference than trying to make an appointment at home. Also increasingly representatives of corporates are joining these events, though reluctantly. After all: why should they share successful business models? Conferences also help in identifying areas of convergence or even bring them about. However the test of the pudding is in the eating. Hence I think after Addis I am done with conferencing for this year, despite upcoming sustainable development goals and climate negotiations. After all, development happens, in obscure corners of the planet hardly making it to any policy table and education may trigger it.
The Education Summit in Oslo today will explore deliverables in four areas:
My name is Reinier van Hoffen.
Click here for a summary.
Also find the text of a lecture Dr. Achterhuis held at the 2012 Bilderberg conference.