Colin Rosser, 62, a sociologist who did research among the Newars east of Kathmandu valley more than two decades ago, is also a former British Gurkha officer with experience in India and Pakistan. In 1984, he was appointed the first chief of ICIMOD and his term expires in mid-1988. Rosser spoke on where the Centre is and where it is headed to HIMAL Editor, Kanak Mani Dixit.
HIMAL: After more than two years at the helm, do you feel ICIMOD now has a grip on what is its calling?
Colin Rosser: Let me first explain ICIMOD's pedigree as a "third generation" international institute. First, you had institutes with a global focus like IRR[ in the Philippines, which applied science to a particular discipline. When it was realised that the social sciences could not be ignored in propagating scientific advances, a second duster of institutes were born, such as those dealing with irrigation and agro-forestry in Colombo and Nairobi. ICIMOD represents a further step, the first institute of its type, which studies the integrated development of a total eco-system. The Centre's establishment brought together the ecologists worried about mountain degradation and scientists seeking to bring about development through agriculture.
HIMAL: Do you emphasise environment or development?
Rosser: Priority must be given to development and not the enironment, especially if you see environmental activities as part of a holistic development process. I want to get away from words like "crisis", "doom" and the whole catalogue. Rather than espouse crisis-laden-scenarios, the Centre will focus on development efforts, taking full account of scientific advances.
HIMAL; Does ICIMOD hope to reach out of the region and become more "international"?
Rosser: The Himalaya Hindu Kush has been written into our statute. However, we do hope to make use of the available knowledge in the Andes, the Alps and the mountains of North America so as to better understand the problems of the Himalaya. There is scope for co-operation in the area of mountain crop genetics, for example. For the moment, we are a reception centre for knowledge, but in time we hope to be a transmitting centre as well.
HIMAL: Where is: the organisation headed institutionally?
Rosser: As I said, we are currently trying to become an efficient clearing house of information, looking for success stories in the mountains and propagating them. At present, one valley does not know what" is happening in the next. The loss of acquired knowledge in these mountains is eollosal! People learn and forget before others have an opportunity to benefit from their experience. We want to help preserve practical knowledge - for example, the insights of an engineer engaged for ten years with the Lamosangu-Jiri road, which you will find in no engineering manual.
We would like to do original research, but that requires a budget of US$ 5 million, as against our present spending of US$ 1.5 million. If we were to assist in opening up centres in the other major mountain systems, that would be US$ 10 million. Of course, we're nowhere that right now.
HIMAL: So ICIMOD is going to limit itself to information transfers?
Rosser; Oh, no, that's only the1 first step. We plan to train professionals: foresters, engineers, planners and others. Even those with degrees earned abroad are on the whole pretty poorly trained. In our second phase of work, which has already begun, we are building up a bank of case studies with which we hope to "irrigate" existing training programmes. This year, we will have case studies ready on watershed and forest management, pasture and fodder use, organisation of rural development, and districtlevel energy planning.
We are also engaged in "action research" for formulating a project on rural-urban linkages as it relates to Kathmandu's produce market. In order to increase urban access of farmers, we hope to identify the points in the commercial chain where private sector, public sector or external aid investment can be used to maximum advantage.
HIMAL: How about implementing development projects on you own?
Rosser: With our miniscule budget, we can only hope to act as catalytic agents. The annual public investment in the Himalaya mountains is US$ 1 billion, so the problem is not one of money. We do not want to add to existing projects, but we would like -to add to their quality. "Why can't we get good projectsf" is the constant refrain of the donor agencies. We will design and monitor projects. As a think tank, however, we can only advocate, argue and present the case.
HIMAL: Are you in touch with other institutions in-the Himalaya?
Rosser: Clearly, we have a coordinating function. There are already over a hundred universities, research institutes and field stations all concerned with mountain development in the region. The work of many of them overlap, for example there is incredible duplication in soil erosion research. Our seminars, symposia and publications help promote H more efficient use of the available financial and intellectual resources. There is camaraderie among professionals in the field, regardless and a willingness to collaborate.
HIMAL: Who are ICIMOD's end-users?
Rosser: The final beneficiary, of course, is the hill farming community, but we do not address them directly. We hope to gain the understanding of professionals such as economists, administrators, officials, journalists and teachers.
HIMAL: The Centre's departments are divided sectorally, so how do you achieve "integrated development"?
Rosser: The problems on the ground are integrated - the farmer does not sectorally divide his worries. As long as we remain engaged with real problems on the ground, and focus on "total development", I feel that 1CIMOD will have fulfilled its mandate.
HIMAL: There must be political constraints to your job
Rosser: The Himalaya Hindu Kush is a politically sensitive region. In dealing with social and economic aspects of development, as we do, one is talking about policies, and policies cannot be separated from politics. So there is a problem here. A centre in a region with a history of wars and continuing boundary disputes has to be constructed with unusual diplomatic skill - so that work can proceed on agreed priorities.
HIMAL: It seems you have been unable to convince all the countries in the region to get1 involved in ICIMOD.
Rosser: Burma, as you know, has always remained aloof from international and regional groupings and we have not been able to open its door any more than others. Afghanistan did attend our inaugural symposia in 1983, and we hope that it will become more active when peace finally arrives. Bangladesh maintains that it is not a mountain country, but we have been trying to. emphasise the importance of the mountain-plains connection.
HIMAL: ICIMOD's salary is the talk of the town,
Rosser: It is true, the Centre is very much like a fish out of water in Nepal on that count. But bear in mind that our salaries are somewhat lower than the United Nations standard. But I ask you, should I pay a Nepali any less than a colleague from another country? Further, if our salaries can attract Nepali experts back from lucrative jobs abroad, that can only be good. As far as possible, I want to use the skills of the region.
At ICIMOD, we have as little hierarchy as possible and all staff get their pay without reference to national or regional origin. There is no north-south divide. My colleagues are encouraged to concentrate on their work untramelled by bureaucracy and hierarchy. We have no advisers or consultants. We're also trying to put Kathmandu on the world's stage as an international meeting place of repute where an independent, autonomous body such as ours can operate with ease.
HIMAL: Whereto now, for lCIMOD?
Rosser: It has been two years, and we're off and running. Remember, we started with a pedigree, but no model. Today, we're, in the institutional map of the region due to my hardworking, productive colleagues. I am not concerned about ICIMOD next year or the year after* but of what will be its character ten years from now. What is our long term future? To help provide answers, the Board of Governors is holding a brainstorming session starting 11 May, to which we will be inviting persons with recognised excellence both in running international development centres and in the area of mountain development.
In the past couple of years, we have made some mistakes and learnt some lessons. It is now time to stop and ask some fundamental questions.
Image: Penguin India
Penguin India withdraws The Hindus
On 11 February 2014, Penguin India decided to recall and destroy all remaining copies of Wendy Doniger’s book The Hindus: An Alternative History. The decision was part of an agreement between them and Shiksha Bachao Andolan, a Hindu campaign group that filed a case against the publishers in 2010, arguing that the book was insulting to Hindus and contained “heresies”.
From our archive:
Diwas Kc reviews The Hindus: An Alternative History. (March 2010)