Bernhard Walter of Bread for the World
Photo: Author
Sarah Schneider of MISEREOR
Photo: Author
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In his Opinion article “Divorced from reality” in the previous Rural 21 edition, our author Ingo Melchers accused some of the German NGOs and church relief organisations of lacking strategies to address the problems of African agriculture. A riposte.

In his article “Divorced from reality”, author Ingo Melchers criticises German church relief organisations MISEREOR and Bread for the World and VENRO, the federation of development cooperation and humanitarian relief in Germany, for applying the wrong “recipes” to rural development and agriculture in Africa. First and foremost, he alleges that the church relief organisations are critical of industrial agriculture and instead prioritise a vague concept of agroecology. Second, he claims that they do not focus sufficiently on productivity increases and are opposed to the use of chemical fertiliser. Third, he states that the German church relief agencies and many non-governmental organisations apply European standards to African development, neglect to conduct country-specific political analysis and fail to recognise African partners’ autonomy. And fourth, he claims that many NGOs have entered into an “unholy alliance” with old elites in developing countries that display no interest in eradicating poverty.

It certainly makes sense to reflect critically on one’s own positions from time to time and engage in spirited debate about the best way forward on rural development. It is for this very reason that the German church relief organisations and NGOs are involved in an ongoing and constructive dialogue with Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Food (BMEL), Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and academic institutions. Sadly, Ingo Melchers’ opinion piece fails to make a constructive and objective contribution to this discourse. Instead, throughout the text, he presents isolated and randomly chosen excerpts from papers by the church relief organisations – out of context – in an attempt to demonstrate that their strategies are the wrong ones. And without a shred of evidence, he implies the existence of relationships – for example, to the old elites in developing countries – that bear no resemblance to reality.

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