At the annual press conference of the Swiss Agency for Development Cooperation (SDC), the director-general Martin Dahinden talked about the agency's activities over the last year and presented its focal points for this year. He emphasised that alongside crises and humanitarian disasters such as in Syria, the Central African Republic and South Sudan, the year 2013 also saw considerable progress made in a number of countries. As an example, Mr Dahinden cited solid economic growth in Ghana, Mozambique, Mongolia and Bhutan. In a number of African states, an emerging middle class has been advocating for its democratic rights. He also stated that despite the world's increasing population, poverty was actually on the decline. «2013 was not just a year of crisis and conflict, but a year of revival and new beginnings for many countries», said Mr Dahinden. States are able to make improvements in their countries when there are stable conditions. The decision to expand the SDC's commitment in fragile states therefore is right, even though this may present more risks.
Mr Dahinden went on to say that the new Dispatch on Switzerland’s International Cooperation in 2013-2016 provided a strategic pointer for the SDC to meet these challenges and developments. The dispatch recognises that many key challenges of our time do not have boundaries, and thus focuses more strongly on global risks such as climate change, migration and epidemics. To adapt itself to these interconnected realities, the SDC today has global programmes in the areas of water, food security, migration and health. The development of the SDC's Global Cooperation into a pillar of the agency's work in the course of the reorganisation between 2008 and 2012 has therefore proved successful.
Mr Dahinden continued to explain that one of the SDC's focal points for the year will be the new agenda on poverty and sustainability known as the post-2015 agenda. This replaces the millennium development goals which run out in 2015. Switzerland has a major interest in the success of the post-2015 agenda, shapes international debates and is the only country taking the lead in two of the eleven global UN consultations – in the areas of water and population dynamics. At the national level, it is the SDC that is tasked with coordinating these activities. The interdepartmental task force in charge will continue to develop Switzerland's position on these issues until summer 2014. The Federal Council will fix a negotiating mandate by autumn and at the end of 2014, negotiations at the UN General Assembly will take place.
Greater efficiency and coherence
At the press conference, Mr Dahinden also talked about the reorganisation measures taking place at the FDFA and the impact this will have on the SDC. Integrating diplomacy, consular services and development cooperation into a single Swiss representation (instead of having two separate ones as before) will increase the coherency of Switzerland's foreign policy and the impact of its activities in the field of international cooperation without restricting the SDC's autonomy, he said. The example of Mali – where the FDFA is simultaneously active in development cooperation work, diplomacy and peacekeeping – demonstrates that closer cooperation within the department and with other stakeholders is needed for Swiss foreign policy to be carried out in an efficient and coherent way. According to Mr Dahinden, this should mean that more resources can be plugged into the projects, rather than administrative work.
Overriding importance of smallholder farmers
Agricultural expert Willi Graf presented the issue of food security and combating poverty. The UN has declared 2014 the International Year of Family Farming. Mr Graf, the deputy head of South Cooperation Department, explained to the press how the SDC supports sustainable agriculture by smallholder farms in many of its country programmes, and advocates for smallholder farmers in the international dialogue on agriculture, such as on the issue of land rights. He went on to show why this is so significant by using examples from two very different countries, Burkina Faso and Georgia. In both countries, the poorest sections of society live in rural areas. Few other support mechanisms help them improve both their food security and income in a short space of time. Improving agriculture also assists in the development of rural areas which makes key political aims – such as decentralisation and democratisation – possible in both countries. The results are positive and have been documented by the SDC in its impact reports. For example, each franc that the SDC has put into an agricultural research project for smallholder farmers has generated nine francs worth of extra food.
Smallholder farmers are an important factor in global food production. Around 50% of food is produced on smallholder farms, of which 500 million are located in developing countries. They generate a large array of products while industrial agriculture is limited to very few staples and types of animal.
Three countries with the highest crisis levels
On the subject of priorities in the humanitarian field, the Federal Council delegate for Swiss Humanitarian Aid Manuel Bessler talked about Switzerland's involvement in Syria, the Central African Republic and the Philippines. These countries call for the highest level of international coordination in crisis situations.
He stated that Swiss Humanitarian Aid has earmarked CHF 6.3 million in reaction to the crisis in the Central African Republic, which should contribute to funding emergency aid missions of multilateral partners (ICRC, WFP and UNCHR) and NGOs active in the priority areas of civilian protection and health. South Sudan has been mired in a political and humanitarian crisis since December 2013 and is also receiving assistance from Swiss Humanitarian Aid, which approved CHF 5.5 million to fund the activities of its UN partners, the ICRC and various NGOs, and will continue to maintain its commitment in South Sudan alongside these emergency measures. An annual budget of CHF 10 million is available for activities in the areas of food security, protection, basic services such as water, sanitation and health. An additional CHF 30 million has also been earmarked for various missions in the context of the Syrian crisis. Furthermore, Swiss Humanitarian Aid will continue its involvement in the Philippines until mid-2014 to assist in the reconstruction of the country after the devastating typhoon Haiyan struck in November 2013.