Since 1988, I have been the coordinator of the long-term academic partnership with the research and development institute Nitlapan of the Universidad Centroamericana in Managua, Nicaragua. Following my PhD ‘Peasants and Economic Development in Nicaragua’ in 1991, I have been involved in research and policy development for a more socially inclusive rural development in alliance with this partner institution. Starting from this specific empirical context, I contribute to the broader theoretical and thematic development debate.
I also function as the convener of the research line Local Institutions for/in development of IOB which promotes an actor-oriented institutional approach to local development within the broader agenda of the IOB research group ‘Development Actors, Processes and Policies’.
I have an historical research interest in microfinance for rural development, immediately related to my involvement in the creation and the development of the Fondo de Desarrollo Local (FDL) from within Nitlapan. Today, FDL is the largest and most rural microfinance institution in Nicaragua. In November 2012, and inspired by the political confrontation and microfinance crisis in Nicaragua, we organized an international conference ‘Microfinance and the New Left in Latin America’ at IOB together with FDL, the Latin American Forum for Rural Finance (FOROLACFR) and other European partners.
Given the limitations of financial service delivery (‘microfinance narcissism’ as we call it) and even of a more integrated ‘Microfinance Plus’, i.e. the combination of microfinance with complementary services such as technical or marketing assistance (typical of the collaboration between FDL and Nitlapan), we have also been working with Nitlapan to change their intervention model from service delivery to a more integrated ‘territorial approach’. The VLIR Own Initiative project ‘Generating Knowledge and Strengthening Synergies for Rural Development. Pilot project for an innovative approach to social learning in Muy Muy, Matiguás’, co-promoted by Marc Craps from HUBrussels, has supported these efforts.
Recently, the environment gained prominence in the rural development agenda. Nitlapan was the local executing agency of the Regional Integrated Silvopastoral Ecosystem Management Project, a World Bank/ Global Environmental Fund pilot project for Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES). It was widely acclaimed for demonstrating the success of the PES-approach and inspired new initiatives such as the Proyecto Cambio project (sponsored by the Central American Regional Development Bank, combining microfinance and PES) of which FDL is one of the main Nicaraguan partner institutions. In this context, we have been involved in critical research about PES and Green Microfinance from the broader perspective of local institutional processes required to generate both social inclusion and environmental sustainability. Just as in the case of microfinance, PES is in danger of being presented and promoted as a market-based panacea which will solve if not all, at least most of the problems of sustainability and even poverty reduction. If it will not be possible to deliver on these ambitions (as can be expected), an interesting tool of development policy runs the risk of being thrown away as just another development fashion that did not work (as in the case of microfinance).
Closely related to the environmental agenda we also conduct research about access to land (and natural resources), adopting an institutional approach which integrates ideas from the legal pluralism paradigm.