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Interview with Mr. Rachid Benaissa, Minister Delegate in charge of Rural Development of Algeria

click for larger image [Photo Courtesy Algerian Ministry of Rural Development]

"Rural development is not simply viewed as a sole complement to agricultural activity (basic infrastructure, transformation of agricultural products, commercialisation) but as a dynamic open to agricultural and non agricultural activities which constitute the assets of rural areas."

In this interview the Dr. Rachid Benaissa, Minister Delegate in charge of Rural Development of Algeria talks about the Strategy for Sustainable Rural Development launched in this country while recommending themes and areas in which collaboration with the UN System Network could be established.

The new Strategy for Sustainable Rural Development (SSRD) that your country is launching is based on the strong ideas of participation and decentralisation. It is also a multidimensional and integrated approach that interests a large number of actors working in partnership with one another. Could you elaborate on the various forms that this partnership can take on the one hand among local actors and on the other between the local and national levels?

In the past 40 years, the development of agriculture has oscillated between the search for greater social justice (and I refer to the agrarian revolution of the 1970s), research towards greater efficiency and productivity (and I refer to the different and often partial structuring and restructurings that followed during the 1980s and 1990s), and to the efforts made in investment and equipment in the agricultural and rural sectors since 2000. Important achievements were arrived at in terms of infrastructure (electrification, access to drinking water, irrigation equipment, etc.). But generally speaking, the modalities of conception, formulation, and implementation of policies and actions were situated in a centralised and planned approach, in which the state played a dominant role - that is a domineering one.

In this context, the relations between various actors dealing with interventions in rural areas were based upon downward and technocratic administrative forms. The efforts towards coordination and harmonization among these also responded to the sole concern of making more efficient use of the injection of public investments, but unfortunately they were not always able to produce convincing results in the area of effectiveness. A partitioning between the various participants, an absence of a real consultation with the beneficiaries and an unfavourable institutional environment, played a role in hampering the partnership and its growth.

In light of this situation, we wanted to create a setting and mechanisms at the heart of a new strategy of sustainable rural development. This initiative depended upon a large consultation between all the players and participants, encompassing all the sectors concerned with rural development issues.

Our starting point was to look for and create a local, horizontal partnership between the different actors so that they could work towards partnership relationships. In order to achieve this, the unifying tool that was proposed was the "projet de proximité de développement rural" [project of proximity of rural development] which we call the PPDR. It has the advantage of subscribing to a common and integrated vision and offers the possibility of making use of the synergies among all the instruments and modes of financing that are currently present in the field (development of agricultural exploitation, habitat, education, health, etc.).

From the point of view of the relations between the local and national levels, I should note that the SSRD has overturned the procedures by granting priority to local initiatives while foreseeing to work back to the financing services.

But firstly, this return goes all the way back to the regional authorities that have benefited from a strong decentralization in order to allow them to perform functions of arbitration and decision-making, at their level. Towards this end, committees to examine and evaluate requests have been instituted. Moreover, the teams are multidisciplinary since they encompass the different specialized services utilised according to the nature of PPDR. Committees and teams benefit from additional training and from professional which allow them to fulfil their respective functions of arbitration and accompaniment, such as databases, indicators, criteria for framing of support funds.

Within this new set of procedures, the central level therefore plays more of a role of general orientation and follow-up evaluation of the plan and intervenes after the fact. We even foresee facilitating more direct relations between regional authorities and international experiences through decentralised cooperation between the regions and entities and groups in countries of the North.

The PNUD and FAO have contributed to the formulation of SSRD. How do you foresee the possibility of other United Nations agencies supporting the implementation of the Strategy and in what forms?

In the majority of the cases, the support of cooperation agencies has targeted single small regions or specific themes. Often, they have been attached to integrated programmes developed by public and para-public authorities. With the arrangements of the new strategy for sustainable rural development, a coherent framework of cooperation is made available to the agencies relating to the groups of regions of a country, or a group of regions facing similar problematics of development (mountain areas, arid areas, etc.)

Moreover, the partnership modalities that the strategy proposes also offer two strong advantages to international cooperation. The first advantage concerns the type of support to local initiatives by making these cooperative institutions equal partners to the other agents. The second enables a complementarity between donor efforts with the other sources of cooperation and thus allows for the creation of better synergies between them.

We are thus open to all cooperation that accepts to subscribe to the SSRD scheme, whether it is in a given region or on a theme concerning all rural areas.

The UN System Network on Rural Development and Food Security also constitutes a Forum for discussion. Are there fields or themes regarding which you wish to establish exchanges and to share experiences with other members of the network in the future?

We are interested in all exchanges and comparisons of experiences. This is very important for us in this building phase of our strategy. Although the SSRD is the fruit of a successive process of elaboration, we have been working on it since June 2002 with the support of multilateral cooperation (and the FAO has played an important role in this exercise) and bilateral cooperation through our contacts with other countries. Nevertheless, as the implementation of the partnership and territorial procedures, the PPDRs, as well as the follow-up evaluation plans progress, we have an interest in evaluating with other expertises, the relevance of the choices that were made. This relates to the general principles but also and perhaps especially to the tools and precise indicators that can be enriched and deepened. I am thinking in particular of the exchanges with countries surrounding the Mediterranean that are at once close to us and implicated in similar concerns of promoting rural development.

On the other hand, I would also like to propose that the advances and achievements of the Algerian experience can also serve other countries. Indeed, at the international meetings that I had the opportunity to participate in, I was able ascertain the questions of my colleagues and the fact that we could provide them with some answers I refer to the concept of rurality which I believe to have attained a very large dimension in our country - more so than in others. Indeed, rural development is not simply viewed as a sole complement to agricultural activity (basic infrastructure, transformation of agricultural products, commercialisation) but as a dynamic open to agricultural and non agricultural activities which constitute the assets of rural areas. Today, rurality is primarily characterised by the diversity of activities and potentials revealed by these areas and this in turn forces us to adopt a larger vision of the problems at hand as well as the solutions to propose. All these experiences, as in Algeria as in other countries, fits in well with the plans of NEPAD which should create a new framework that will promote discussion and favour a wider partnership. I am delighted in advance of the FAO initiative to organise sometime in 2005, a meeting of different representatives and actors of rural development in Mediterranean countries on the Algerian strategy of sustainable rural development.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this interview do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the UN System Network on Rural Development and Food Security nor of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.