Thursday 11th January 2024

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Viscount Eccles Portrait Viscount Eccles (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

My Lords, I welcome this debate. I am an outlier because I am a pensioner of what was CDC and is now BII. Indeed, I was its chief executive about half way through its history. It is still there, and it is still doing development.

I hope for two things really. The first is that it will be accepted that, in CDC, we always thought of what we were doing from the point of view of the country where we were doing it. We never did it with the western agenda in our minds. Secondly, I hope that the pessimism, the difficulty and the incredible challenge of the debate in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, does not make us all so uncertain and depressed that in the end we stop trying to do anything. That is a bit extreme but it is a serious danger: if you do not keep trying, you stop doing things altogether.

There are 17 Commonwealth members in sub-Saharan Africa and 13 of them are in the bottom quartile of per capita incomes of the world’s countries. When we work in those countries, do we think about climate change first? I think the answer is: what do they think about first? I suspect that they think that climate change is just another aspect of the problems that they have, which are dominated by food security, so it is just a bit more of the same and not necessarily because there is so much uncertainty about the effects of climate change. People have to think more carefully about some of the certainties they are trying to express. We simply do not know why, perhaps, the yields of maize from the small farmers of Rwanda will start to drop. There is so much that we do not know about it.

I would like to refer quickly to BII, which is doing some very interesting things in relation to the prosperity of small farmers. It has made more than one investment in a Kenyan-based business which builds solar plants to drive pumps to irrigate. I think the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, made a reference to rain-fed agriculture. Of course, we all know that if you can move from rain-fed in a place where there is enough groundwater available and irrigate, your yields will increase dramatically—not just by a little but, in east Africa, dramatically.

In addition, BII is investing in a 50 megawatt, sun-driven power station and distribution system in Sierra Leone—which is not an easy place. That is a very positive move. It has also formed a subsidiary which has just agreed with the Government of Burundi to do something similar. Burundi is the bottom country on the world list—so some things are being done. In addition, right from the beginning of CDC, power has always been on its agenda. Forestry has always been on it, too, and BII is doing some very interesting work on agroforestry. Smallholder farming has always been on the agenda.

I want to move very briefly to Kew, because there we are missing a trick. Kew does a great deal of very valuable work, collecting and distributing information. It is looking into all sorts of possibilities—the power of wild relatives to improve plants, and so on—but it does not do much after collecting and distributing that information. Does my noble friend see Kew joining in the development programme, as opposed to being simply a scientific institution that says, “If you want the information, please apply for it”?