30 years

Shaping rural policies

"In 2007, when we held the first Brussels briefing, agriculture wasn't seen as a high priority by the vast majority of ACP countries," says Isolina Boto, head of CTA's Brussels office. "At the time, just four or five of the 79 ACP countries had identified agriculture and rural development as their main priority for receiving European Commission support in their National Indicative Programmes (NIPs)."

During discussions with staff of the European Commission, Isolina suggested that there was an urgent need to sensitise policymakers in Brussels about the importance of agriculture, and push it higher up the policy agenda. "Many of the ambassadors and their staff thought of agricultural as something that concerned technical people, such as agronomists, rather than policymakers," she says. This is what inspired CTA, the ACP group and the Commission to launch a series of policy briefings.

The first Brussels Rural Development Briefing was held in July 2007. Since then, there have been six briefings a year, amounting to 33 by October 2013. Jointly organised by CTA, the European Commission, the European Presidency, the ACP Group of States and Concord – the European NGO federation for relief and development - the briefings are both popular and influential. Each consists of half a day of presentations and discussions, focusing on a specific topic of interest related to agriculture and rural development. "This isn't just about food production," says Isolina.

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"We've explored a whole range of topical subjects, such as sustainable intensification, fair trade, climate-smart agriculture, financing agriculture, the geopolitics of food and youth employment. We want to understand the various drivers of agricultural transformation in ACP countries."

The briefings are attended by up to 150 people. A recent survey found that 21% come from ACP embassies in Brussels, 18% from NGOs, 13.5% from international organisations and 17% from the European Commission. The briefings also attract researchers, journalists and representatives of the private sector. They have received consistently strong support from the ACP embassies, with around 35% of the embassies sending representatives to virtually every meeting.

"We frequently receive calls from ambassadors who can't come, asking for documents," says Isolina. These include the comprehensive 'Readers', providing background information for each topic, researched and written by Isolina and her young staff. The briefings are also videoed live on the web, and during recent years CTA has produced a series of policy briefs following the briefings.

The briefings have promoted strategic partnerships with key ACP, European Commission and international organisations involved in rural development, and they have attracted the interest of new partners for CTA, such as agribusiness companies and multinational corporations. They have also helped, along with many other factors, to push agriculture and rural development higher up the policy agenda. Indeed, over 30 ACP countries identified agriculture and rural development as a key priority for support in the latest round of National Indicative Programmes.

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In 2011, CTA co-organised a briefing with the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) on nutritional security in ACP countries. Since then, IFPRI and CTA have co-organised two more briefings on food price volatility and agricultural resilience. IFPRI considered these such a success that it has offered to co-organise and part-finance one briefing a year, as have the NEPAD Planning and Coordinating Agency and the African Union Commission. Following the briefing on agricultural resilience, IFPRI staff asked its Board of Trustees to include resilience as part of its strategic programme for the next five years. Agricultural resilience will also be the subject of a major 2020 conference to be held by IFPRI – thanks to the influence of the Brussels Briefing. Following the briefing on food price volatility in November 2011, CTA facilitated the input of farmers' organisations to the G20 meeting held in Mexico in 2012. The key recommendations of this meeting were accepted by the G20 Ministers of Agriculture.

In 2012, CTA published a DVD containing information on all the Brussels briefings. This will be updated every year.

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Beyond Brussels

In 2010, the ACP Committee of Ambassadors and African regional farmers' organisations asked CTA and its partners to launch a series of regional briefings. The first of these, focusing on land access and acquisition, was held in Yaoundé, Cameroon, in September 2010. By October 2013, a further 11 regional briefings had been held in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific. Their objective has been to raise awareness about key rural development issues, especially food security, and increase the exchange of information and expertise on selected issues.

These one- to two-day regional briefings consist of three or four panel discussions with up to six speakers. Each speaker provides a different perspective on the topic in question. The discussions are followed by interactive debates, and the briefings conclude with a press conference. Many have received good coverage in national and international media. Wherever possible, the briefings are held back-to-back with high-level regional policy events. In terms of feedback, over 95% of those who have attended have expressed themselves to be very satisfied with the sharing of knowledge, the plurality of experiences exchanged and the openness of the debates.

It says a great deal about the influence the policy briefings can have that Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the world, should approach CTA with a view to setting up its own national policy briefings. "They told us they'd been following the Brussels Briefing online, and they wanted to use the materials we produce for these as background for their own briefings, looking at the same topics through a national lens," explains Isolina.

National Briefings in Haiti were launched in March 2013. Organised by Promotion for Development (PROMODEV), the Ministry of Agriculture and other development partners, with financial and technical support from CTA, the first briefing focused on 'Building resilience in the face of crisis and shocks,' which had been the subject of Brussels Briefing No 30. The next two meetings, which attracted over 200 people, focused on adding value to local food products and aquaculture and fisheries development. Each meeting was tailored to the local context and made use of the materials used in Brussels briefings. "We are very proud that the briefings are owned at regional and national level and driven by the partners," says Isolina.

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