If you take a drive towards the northern edge of the Cardamom Mountains, through the town of Pailin, Cambodia, you might see farmers tending to their cassava fields.

The farms, vast blankets of moss green, stretch for miles towards the foothills, creating a stunning vista. But about a decade ago, farmers in Pailin were struggling. Cassava – the second largest crop in terms of income, employment, and exports – was not doing well.

In some cases, yields were low, and farmers had to strive hard to make ends meet. They lacked technical expertise on how best to replace nutrients, in soil depleted by the cassava crop. They also needed support to package and market cassava and its byproducts and were seeking insights to increase exports.

In 2011, to boost sustainable cassava production, UNDP, along with China’s Ministry of Commerce and Cambodia’s Ministry of Agriculture, developed a project, to help small producers and exporters of cassava. The aim was to improve farm productivity, increase revenues and exports, and create jobs in the cassava sector.

The project helped Cambodian farmers to draw on China’s vast experience in cassava cultivation, to address challenges in production and marketing, and ultimately to fend off poverty.

As a bridge between Cambodia and China, this South-South and Trilateral Cooperation project has improved cassava productivity, conserved soil quality, and paved the way for direct exports of processed cassava to China. In pilot sites, productivity rose by up to 70 percent. And now, the private sector is stepping in.

Last year, UNDP and Green Leader Holdings, a Hong Kong-based industrial agriculture firm, signed a cost sharing agreement to further boost cassava exports – a US $150 million commitment, for 10 starch making factories, in Cambodia.

This story of success and continual growth reflects the influence and significance of creating connections and the true spirit of South-South and Triangular Cooperation. It signifies that to tackle development’s toughest challenges we must work together, and share resources, expertise, and knowledge.

The Cambodia-China story and other stories in this report exemplify how cooperation and collaboration are bringing about dramatic transformations, in countries across the region and beyond. I firmly believe such cooperation is critically important for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, to bring prosperity to all people, and to protect our planet.

Advancing Economic Success Across the Afghanistan-Tajikistan Border

During fall season in Afghanistan’s Yage Qala district, the trees droop with ruby red pomegranates. Less than five years ago, Hayatullah Khaksar and his fellow farmers would pluck the leathery skinned fruit filled with juicy, sparkling red seeds, and load it along with other produce on mules.

Then in a thick darkness, well before dawn, they would head to the market near the Tajikistan border; about a seven-hour trek over treacherous terrain, carefully avoiding pockets of conflict between Taliban militias and government forces.

Sometimes the farmers would lose their loads when crossing the rapidly rushing Panj river, a swirling cement colored mass of water that separates Afghanistan from Tajikistan. Sometimes a mule or two would be swept away, at other times they would stumble while navigating narrow mountain ledges.

At the border market, the farmers would sell their produce to locals and Tajik traders, making just enough money to break even, and then they would hurry back home.

“Since we are a family of eight, it was very hard for me to meet the basic needs of my family,” says Khaksar.

For many villagers on either side of the border, especially women, it is hardscrabble existence. Nearly 75 percent of the population lives in poverty, and most scrape out a living tilling fields that lie in the shadow of fortress like mountains.

Despite the challenges, enterprise persists. Artisans design a range of handicrafts. And farmers produce a bounty of vegetables and fruit, on farmland made fertile by nutrient rich sediment and organic material deposited by the Panj river.

For farmers such as 35-year-old Khaksar, the main challenge was access to markets. Although training and better irrigation helped increase yields, like most other farmers he was not able to cash in on the rising harvests.

It is a long way from these border villages to the bustling markets of Kabul and Dushanbe. And both farmers and artisans have little knowledge of how to market their products, and boost commercial enterprise.

Then four years ago, the Yage Qala district government with support from partners and the UN Development Programme constructed dirt roads, and bridges over canals. The plan was to help connect villages to border markets and the district center, to help transform the lives of people in the region.

Vehicular access slashed the seven-hour journey to just two hours. Now, with increased harvests and better access to markets, Khaksar and his fellow farmers tally sales of about US $60,000 a season, making nearly US $25,000 in profit, says Roshan Safi, a UNDP project manager, with the cross-border livelihoods improvement project.

“With vehicles we can transport our products much more easily and sell them in several more markets and districts,” says Khaksar. “Now, I can better fulfill the needs of my family.”

In October 2018, UNDP organized a cross-border trade fair involving dozens of entrepreneurs from Tajikistan and Afghanistan, which opened up even more opportunities to advance trade. It was an occasion for entrepreneurs from both countries to showcase their products and develop new and stronger business ties.

The goods presented by Afghan and Tajik entrepreneurs – eleven of them women – included pomegranates, dried fruits, carpets, perfumes, gemstones, and handmade leather goods. The exhibition that lasted five days was attended by more than five thousand people and resulted in 28 business contracts, totaling nearly one million US dollars.

“The quality and price of products was satisfactory for Tajik customers, and Afghan traders sold around 70 percent of their products,” said Abdul Rouf Qazizada, an official with the Livelihood Improvement Tajik-Afghan Cross-Border Areas project.

For Khaksar, it has provided impetus to expand. “Besides crop farming, I have recently opened a bee farm. I now sell organic honey in the markets, this is an extra source of income,” he says.

UNDP’s Nilofer Malik adds that the success of the trade fair is simply a first step. “Cross-border trade is vital to regional cooperation and is an essential component for Afghanistan’s economic growth.”

UNDP has planned even more trade fairs this year, one in Afghanistan and two in Tajikistan, in June and September. The aim is to promote stability and security in the bordering provinces of Tajikistan and Afghanistan, by reducing poverty and supporting economic development and cross-border collaboration between communities.

The socio-economic project, now in its second phase, is funded by the Government of Japan through the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). It is executed by UNDP and Afghanistan’s Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation. Based on the ‘One Village, One Product’ (OVOP) model, first developed by Japanese women, the project has been reframed in Afghanistan, as ‘Our Village Our Pride.’

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Afghanistan's OVOP Life Cycle

Shoppers check out goods at the Tajik-Afghan trade fair in Khaton, Bokhtar city, Tajikistan.

UNDP Photo

Innovations from Bangladesh are Transforming Public Service Delivery in the Philippines

In the city of Cotabato, Philippines, there is plenty of food and medicine for the old and the infirm, but accessing it is a challenge.

The bureaucratic hurdles to obtain a senior citizen’s card or a grocery booklet can leave many short of food and susceptible to illness. There is only one government office that serves a wide region, which provides the card and booklet. For many it is a journey that can take several hours, and when they get there, they may still not get what they came for.

Now, that lethargic bureaucracy in Cotabato could soon be a thing of the past, as the country adopts lessons from a new leader in innovative public service delivery: Bangladesh.

Over the past decade, the ‘Access to Information’ (a2i) project, set up by the UN Development Programme in partnership with the Government of Bangladesh, has been driving innovation in public service delivery.

It has dramatically cut down the time, cost, and number of visits required to access services, while hacking away at bureaucracy and corruption. Now, millions of Bangladeshis, even in the country’s remotest areas, can easily obtain a range of public services, such as birth certificates and land records, through digital centres.

The centres, located in hundreds of villages across the country, are used by more than
two million people each month. Another a2i scheme that provides online training has
helped over 17,000 youth develop skills for specific jobs, through an apprenticeship
programme.

“Our strong projects have revolutionized public service delivery across Bangladesh and
can serve as models for countries around the globe,” said Anir Chowdhury, a2i’s chief
policy adviser. “This is an opportunity for us to share innovative solutions and for countries to tap into digital experiences, so that we can collaborate and cooperate on social empowerment initiatives.”

From the Philippines to Fiji, from Peru to Somalia, countries across the world are seeking better ways and means to deliver public services to their citizens. They are looking for solutions to fix acute problems that fit specific situations, with the aim of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – a plan agreed to by world leaders to protect the planet and bring prosperity to all peoples, by 2030.

Now, with the support of UNDP, a2i is spreading its innovative solutions to several countries. It is working with local authorities in the Philippines, where public service delivery in small cities and towns faces multiple challenges. These challenges include bureaucratic rules, a lack of technology, and poor decision-making. The country’s decentralized structure has spawned diverse administrative systems that are poorly
managed and don’t link-up with one another.

Geography creates another set of hurdles, as many people live on remote islands or in mountainous regions. Some areas are prone to natural disasters and some are plagued
by inter-religious strife, further compounding the situation.

Now, inspired by a2i’s solutions, the Philippines has introduced a ‘4D’ design and development programme, to transform traditional services into efficient digital services. The process involves four steps: diagnose, design, demo, and develop. The first three steps are completed within 10 days, and digital services are developed and delivered within six months.

In a workshop organized by UNDP in the city of Cotabato, politicians, citizens, and bureaucrats identified 4D as the best solution for local government, to overhaul unresponsive and unaccountable public service delivery. The aim is to ensure efficiency and effectiveness through new services that are user-centered, simplified, integrate digital tools, and use data, when available.

Meanwhile, in the Pacific region, the Government of Fiji is adopting a2i’s ‘4D’ system, to track countrywide delivery of a Poverty Benefit Scheme. The result, a web application called the ‘Start-to-Finish (S2F) Service Delivery Tracker.’ The tracker, also available as a mobile app, allows citizens to submit online service requests and to track the progress of delivery.

The application generates auto notifications, an SMS or email, and processes and delivers services online, reducing time, cost, and visits needed for securing a service.

In 2018, UNDP’s ‘Innovate for Somalia’ project invited a2i to conduct a series of workshops, to explore how digital applications can reform delivery of public services. Officials from the Prime Minister’s office and multiple ministries explored opportunities for transforming services, using digital technology.

The discussions led to Change Lab, an online platform, where Somalis can quickly access a host of public services, such as: business, vehicle and property registrations, passport requests, and access to IDs and birth certificates.

At the UN World Data Forum in Dubai, in 2018, a2i signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Government of Peru’s National Institute of Statistics and Informatics (INEI), to share expertise and develop a ‘SDGs Tracker.’
The tracker sets targets and follows the progress of each SDG indicator. It is expected to lead to efficient and effective policy making, for inclusive and sustainable development.

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Digital Bangladesh: The Wind of Change

A man accesses services from a Universal Digital Centre, in rural Bangladesh.

UNDP Photo

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Creating Connections:
South-South and Triangular Cooperation in Asia and the Pacific