Getting Out of the Trap. Interview with Josine Stremmelaar


On the occasion of the virtual launch of Development 53.3 'Sustaining Local Economies', Assistant Editor Laura Fano Morrissey interviews Josine Stremmelaar, Hivos' Knowledge Programme Coordinator. This issue of the journal was produced in partnership with the Hivos' Knowledge Programme. 

LFM: What in your opinion is the main message of Development vol 53 no 3 issue?

JS: There are several messages, one of them is that sustainability is important and that it's possible to become more sustainable also economically. And I think that the various practices described in the journal show that there are ways of redesigning state-society-market relations and that can be micro level, alongside the macro level. Therefore one of the answers is that sustainable local economy and a sustainable agenda in the economic field is something that is not only worth pursuing but is also possible. Other messages relate to the fact that we can still use the momentum of the crisis to rethink how the market, the state and society interact. Everyone agrees that liberalization has gone too far. There seems to be an increased call for the participation of the state but I think it is too soon. There are many other issues at stake, which are related to how you can ensure sustainable livelihoods. These are issues not only for people in the west but worldwide we have to ensure that the west doesn't finish all the resources before everyone else. So we are talking about going beyond standard reflections that the state should take over. We need to reflect how the market be embedded more effectively in society as well as what role the state can play. I think the key word is accountability, it is very important that citizens hold their governments and businesses accountable.

LFM: How is the Hivos Knowledge Programme sustaining local economies?

JS: An example is the Small Producer Agency in the Globalized Market. I think one of the things we can do with the Hivos Knowledge Programme is to better reflect and create partnerships among people from different sectors, from academia, from business, so that we are able to bridge seemingly unresolved ideological differences between people who focus on a rights-based approach and people who focus on a market based approach. Dialogue is vital if we are to reconcile these visions. What we are trying to do with the Knowledge Programme is to have a much more critical reflection between business, between NGOs, between state about how local economies can actually work for poor people and how we can make sure it is sustainable. Instead of running around after this crisis, going for quick fixes, which again will not work, we need to find long-term solutions. We really need to sit together and then act together. Looking for an economy that serves society, instead of running away with the money agenda. On 29 September-1 October we are holding a three day international conference where the journal will also be launched in order to foster this dialogue.

LFM: What can the concepts of community and local livelihoods bring to the solution of the crisis? Where do you situate the market?

JS: It is very important we put faith back in what works on the ground and move the focus away from creating huge systems. Through globalization we are pushing a lot of power, thinking and planning away to higher levels where only very few people can participate. Our economic and political systems where decisions are made have become very untransparent. The solutions reflect this distance and are far removed from what is happening on the ground. It is all very disconnected. However the way it is discussed, it seems as if these global institutions were not made by people, they have become a bureaucracy, and you no longer know how to make sure they still work as it was originally envisaged, i.e. that people are treated fairly and justly. Therefore I really see the role of communities and their participation in decision-making as vital. They are the ones that know how their local markets are working and how globalization affects them. It is deeply unjust that local markets are so affected by global development and people operating in local markets have no influence on global decisions. For a long time we spoke as if the global was a wonderful cosmopolitan magical place where everyone lives. Now we are aware that the global trends and agreements become a trap and that more people are more marginalized. We have to make sure that the things we do are grounded in local realities otherwise we are in a trap which in the end we can no longer control.