Family Planning in International Development Projects

Family Planning, Population and Reproductive Health in International Development Projects
March 19, 2014

For several years we have been publishing special newsletters on partner projects from the field. Here is an example of a field project newsletter:

Course participants develop field projects based upon a community needs assessment. This means that community members voice their perception of their needs—which are then included in the project design.

Why isn’t family planning entering the discussion?
We’ve worked with staff members from 500 organizations in 149 different countries and yet it is been interesting for us to note that very rarely do we see any mention of overpopulation, family planning, or reproductive health.

Recently, two members of our community wrote and expressed concern about this.
Sue from Guatemala, the founder of the leading family planning organization here in Guatemala had this to say:
“Dear Tim – I am disheartened and appalled that in the list of 25 needs that surfaced in the needs assessments reported below, no one identified family planning access.   No developing country is going to be able to thrive and grow without it.”  Sue

Jane, from Australia added this:
“Remarkable – not one mention of population growth as a cause of water stress, nor any mention of incorporating family planning in any of the projects, despite the unmet desire of a large proportion of women in each of these countries to avoid further pregnancies or to space pregnancies.

Without doing this, you are deluding yourself that these actions can have lasting effect. They will not.
Population growth is reducing African land and water per capita five times faster than climate change.” Jane

We mentioned to Jane that we were also surprised at this and that in 2013 we wrote 10 grant proposals to try and fund the development of a Spanish language family-planning course for Latin America—and didn’t get a single nibble.

Jane replied with:
“Thank you for your response to my note. I am heartened that you would welcome partnering with family planning projects.

These involve “Population Health and Environment” programs (PHE) of integrated development, and reproductive health education for youth.

Rather than, or in addition to, a course on the PHE approach, I would be interested to see how the population perspective could be inserted into existing projects. I noticed in a couple of Participatory Needs Assessment reports that I looked at, that the student-facilitator was separating the issues raised by the community into problems and underlying causes. It would seem relevant to me for such activities to raise the issue of population pressure as an underlying cause.

This doesn’t mean that it needs to be the focus of interventions, but becomes part of the awareness and discourse around problem solving. Interventions for water and food security, educational infrastructure and even employment could rightly be seen as mitigating population pressure. It then becomes obvious that, while the current pressure may be mitigated by the planned actions, future increased pressure may not. People understand this – often they only need someone to open the conversation. If the community participants are not receptive to this perspective, it doesn’t have to be pursued at that time. They can take the process in the direction they choose. But at least an opportunity has been given.

My own background is in agricultural development, and I’ve been involved in community participatory projects and farmer field schools in a number of countries. However, now my research is looking at the impacts of population dynamics and of family planning programs, as I see stabilising population as a prerequisite for development, not an afterthought. It seems to me that the best kept secret in the world is that all the family planning nations have romped ahead in economic development, while those who have insisted on development first have stagnated or even destabilised. I looked at the claim that development leads to people choosing smaller families, and haven’t seen any evidence that this contributed to the different paths of different countries. Invariably the family planning programs and the fertility decline came first. In its absence, even the recipients of the highest levels of international aid have struggled to develop in terms of GDP per capita, and have gone backwards in terms of absolute numbers of people in extreme poverty. It is inconscionable that the development industry should continue to turn its back on these facts.”


What are your thoughts on this?

Why do you feel that family-planning isn’t entering into community-based participatory needs assessments? In other words, why aren’t community members mentioning population and/or a lack of family planning as part of the challenges which they face in their lives?

I look forward to hearing from you,

Tim Magee

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