VIC (funded by NT)
…It was particularly valuable having a significant proportion of the conference attendees being African nationals who provided insight into the current climate and applicability of development in that continent.
As the Hon John Kerin AM noted at the beginning of the recent Bread from Stones conference, the key ingredients for development are education (particularly of women) and agricultural research. Being both a woman undertaking further studies and involved in agricultural research, it was bound to be a relevant and interesting conference and I was not disappointed. Over the three days of formal proceedings the speakers from across disciplines and sectors presented on topics that challenged and stimulated their audiences, evidenced by the passionate discussions that took place both serendipitously and in scheduled discussion times.
One concept that surfaced several times and I found particularly challenging, was the corporate social responsibility (CSR) of the agricultural sector. Large scale mining in Africa is frequently the object of negative sentiments, however agriculture is evolving in Africa as it is everywhere else, and with increased corporate investment as a key driver comes the perpetuation of market-based capitalism where previously subsistence farming dominated. With this investment comes CSR which is identified by many mining corporations in their involvement in local development projects. Agricultural corporations should not be exempt from this CSR; the challenge is finding a form of this responsibility that is culturally appropriate and wanted by the community. There is also often a significant education gap between companies and local communities which impacts the scope of their expectations and requests.
By integrating mining and agriculture in the construct of development, the opportunity to share ideas and challenges was born. This interdisciplinary context provided a more holistic approach that encouraged participants to not just focus on the agricultural research, but to look further afield at the application and implications of development. It was particularly valuable having a significant proportion of the conference attendees being African nationals who provided insight into the current climate and applicability of development in that continent.
Mario Pezzini, Director of the OECD Development Centre, summarized much of the discussion in stating that for economic transformation across Africa, ‘strategy, rather than specific policy, is required’. This strategy can be government driven, but requires the backing of industry and communities to bring about change. The dialogue initiated at the conference across industries and continents is a positive step in the collaboration required for this transformation – a process that will continue beyond the week of the Bread from Stones conference, as the newly formed networks are expanded upon and take on a life of their own.