The last decade has witnessed a transformation in international development assistance. This has involved both an
unprecedented consensus on development objectives at the international and national levels, and a commitment on the part of a
large number of development assistance stakeholders as to how those objectives may be pursued more effectively. It is a
transformation that has been driven by a number of factors. Chief among these have been, at the global level, the Millennium
Development Goals, to which in September 2000 the world’s governments committed themselves; at the national level, poverty
reduction strategy papers (PRSPs) or other forms of strategies for poverty reduction, which in most of the world’s poorest countries provide a national point of reference for development efforts; and, within the international development community, the
harmonization, alignment and results agenda that, following the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness of February 2005, seeks to
reform the way that the international development community – donors and partners alike – works and to enhance the impact of development assistance through improved alignment at the country level combined with strengthened country ownership of development efforts.
Sector-wide approaches (SWAps) generally, and agricultural/rural SWAps in particular, lie squarely within the new international development architecture that has emerged from this transformation. In certain situations, SWAps – nationally-owned and executed sectoral programmes for the achievement of key objectives for broad-based growth and poverty reduction – are held to be the most effective platforms for the pursuit of common sectoral objectives. There is no single universally-accepted definition of what constitutes a SWAp and, indeed, the terms ‘sector approach’, ‘sector support’, ‘sectorwide programmes’, ‘sector investment
programme’, and ‘SWAp’ are frequently used interchangeably. However the following definition is widely quoted: “... all significant funding for the sector supports a single sector policy and expenditure programme, under government leadership, adopting common approaches across the sector, and progressing towards relying on Government procedures to disburse and account for all funds”.1
While the form that individual SWAps take varies considerably, they do share a number of common characteristics. First, they represent a partnership between the government, which is expected to provide leadership; their international development partners, who are themselves expected to adopt common positions and, to the extent possible, harmonize their support; and other stakeholders, including civil society and the private sector. Second, SWAps are explicitly not expected to provide a blueprint for action; rather, the partnerships established are designed to provide a framework for a process of dialogue and action relative to a shared sectoral vision and objectives. Third, and in contrast to earlier approaches, SWAps are intended to focus not only on the financing of a comprehensive investment programme, but also on policy dialogue and change, and on the provision of support to, and reform of, national institutions.
The Status of Sector Wide Approaches, A. Brown, A. Norton, F. Naschold; January 2001. Overseas Development
Institute (ODI), Working Paper 142. London: ODI.