Forming Partnerships Helps Spur Sustainable Development

By Charlene Porter
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington – More than 200,000 farmers in more than 20 Asian and African countries have adopted new cultivation methods to produce increased crop yields using fewer pesticides and less water.

Some Nigerian slaughterhouses are reducing their impact on the environment, improving health and creating a new energy source by using cattle waste as a biofuel source rather than expelling it into the environment and polluting local water sources.

These are just two examples of innovative, entrepreneurial partnerships recognized by the SEED Initiative, which stands for Supporting Entrepreneurs for Environment and Development.

SEED is a partnership involving national governments, including the United States, Germany and South Africa; international organizations, such as the U.N. Environment Programme and the U.N. Development Programme; and the private sector.

The SEED awards selected biennially focus international attention on locally based coalitions that are working to solve problems while balancing economic, environmental and social concerns.

The application process for the next round of awards is under way, with a deadline of October 15.

The Nigerian project, known as Cows to Kilowatts and recognized by SEED in 2005, joined the beef industry and local activists in an initiative to devise slaughterhouse operation methods that would be more beneficial to business, the environment and the community.

“So you could have a more efficient way of running a slaughterhouse,” said U.S. Department of State Special Representative for Sustainable Development Jonathan Margolis.

In a May speech at the United Nations, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky said the project in Ibadan, Nigeria, demonstrates “on-the-ground energy service delivery” and “locally based solutions for local energy challenges.”

Another aspect of the Cows to Kilowatts project that merited SEED recognition, Margolis said in a Washington File interview, was the cooperative way that community, business and environmental groups worked together to serve all their interests.

“When you’re dealing with issues as complex as how one protects the environment, how one has social development related to health and education, no one sector can do it alone,” said the special representative.

The concept of incorporating sustainability in any development project has been gaining momentum since the World Summit on Sustainable Development held in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2002. It is a strategy that balances multiple interests to create lasting strategies for social, environmental and economic progress while avoiding the depletion of resources.

To illustrate the need for sustainable strategic planning, Margolis uses the example of a country that decides to boost national income by selling timber abroad and pursues a clear-cutting – felling and removing trees from an entire tract - strategy.

“What you might have is a situation where you degrade your long-term ability to grow,” he said. “Local communities that might get a boom for a short period of time can’t sustain it over the long term.”

Another important criteria for SEED recognition is that a partnership be infused with an entrepreneurial spirit that usually is found in decentralizing the effort, Margolis said.

“[By] going to the lowest level possible and finding the people who are really motivated, really want to push whatever project forward, that’s an entrepreneurial spirit,” he said.

Each of the SEED winners receives multiple levels of support, including up to $25,000 of targeted support services designed to help launch the initiative, and 12 months of guidance and mentoring from experts involved in the initiative.

Past winners have received financial and business development planning, individualized mentoring and expert consultations.

The winners also receive high-level recognition on the international stage at an announcement ceremony held at the United Nations in New York.

The SEED program also seeks to identify projects that can be replicated in other settings, so winners will have the satisfaction of seeing their work serve as a model for others trying to confront similar problems in sustainable development.

The Nigerian Ministry of the Environment, for example, has adopted the practices of the Cows to Kilowatts partnership and is working to replicate the project at other slaughterhouses around the country.

More information on the U.S. government’s sustainable development partnerships is available on a State Department Web site.

More information on the SEED Initiative and application instructions are available on a U.N. Web site.