The Regional Office South of GIZ in Feldafing benefits from being located in rural southern Germany, where it is embedded in an extensive network of institutions, organizations and private sector actors working on green topics. The cooperation with these stakeholders and the existing infrastructure allows to accommodate international guests and to foster exchange with the local agricultural sector as well as among themselves.
While the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic prevent people from partner countries to travel to Germany, the cross-regional knowledge exchange is continued successfully with virtual formats, in which the Bavarian partners are also involved.
GIZ offices can be found in 120 countries around the world but also in the small Bavarian village, Feldafing. Located 25 km southwest of Munich at the shores of Lake Starnberg, the GIZ Regional Office South is one of four German Regional Offices and probably the most known by African farmers, agri-food entrepreneurs and decisionmakers as many of them have visited the International Conference and Training Centre (IBB) Feldafing in the past to take part in an agricultural seminar. As intermediaries between international, federal and state levels, the GIZ Regional Offices in Germany have the mandate to assist the state governments with the implementation of their projects and programmes in the field of international cooperation. Moreover, the Regional Offices link selected GIZ projects with the federal structure and regional expertise within Germany.
Through its strategic location in the rural area of Southern Germany with a comprehensive network of institutions, organizations and private actors, the Regional Office South is a hotspot for green topics. Many of the currently 26 projects and components funded by BMZ, EU and the State of Bavaria, are centered around agriculture, rural development or climate change. To name only a few, examples are the Human Capacity Development (HCD) Team of the Green Innovation Centres for the Agriculture and Food Sector or the Creating Employment for Export Promotion (CETEP) component in Kosovo. Through the formal and informal technical expert exchange, the colleagues in Feldafing benefit from the experience of each other and are able to identify and to make use of thematic synergies.
Another significant advantage are logistical synergies, which result from the cooperation with the International Conference and Training Centre (IBB) of GIZ. Located in the rural setting of Feldafing, it literally offers “everything under one roof”: Professional seminar rooms and a conference hotel on site make the infrastructure ideal for welcoming guests and fostering a dialogue between them.
In addition, there is a decade-long tradition of addressing green issues, accompanied by strong ties to the agricultural scene in Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg. The premises even belong to the Bavarian State which illustrates the strong embedding of the location Feldafing within the federal political landscape. This connectedness allows leveraging these networks for an in-depth exchange today: The local agricultural sector is characterized by a particular diversity of production and linked to a wide range of private and state institutions for agricultural education and training, extension services and research. This creates a multitude of interesting opportunities for an exchange of expertise between local practitioners and international guests. Furthermore, agriculture in Bavaria is particularly small-scale and characterized by a high proportion of family farms, which are relevant visiting points for guests from respective partner countries.
This setting provides the framework for writing success stories of rural development. One of these stories is that of a specialist trainer for solar energy from Cameroon. He attended a seminar on renewable energies in agriculture, organized by the Green Innovations Centres, in December 2018, and experienced this as a real eye-opener: When encountering difficulties while trying to dry seeds in the sun in his home country, “I immediately remembered the dryer we saw at the seminar in Germany”. This was the “Solar Bubble Dryer“, developed by Hohenheim University, International Rice Research Institute and GrainPro – a drying technology, which he describes as “a simple model [which] showed me that you don’t need a lot of materials to make a dryer”. He points out that without his visit to Germany he would not have thought of creating such a dryer, which has meanwhile garnered interest from his neighbours and can be used for a range of products.
When it comes to marketing and especially exporting their produce, many farmers or Small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) from developing countries face severe barriers. In order to open opportunities for export-ready companies, the Regional Office South regularly organizes trade fair visits accompanied by sales trainings and further exposure visits. The biggest and best-known trade fair for organic products worldwide is the BioFach, which takes place annually in Nuremberg, Bavaria. During a visit to the BioFach several entrepreneurs from Kosovo were able to promote their herbs, mushrooms and berries from the wild collection. They met with importers from Europe and the personal contact and exchange of information enabled both sides to get insights into the company structures and needs of potential new business partners. Many of these meetings led to orders and multi-year cooperation. Besides, the continuing exchange resulted in product innovations in order to fill market gaps and improve quality.
Through such stories, Feldafing consistently delivers proof of its value as a place of joint learning, a platform for active South-South-North exchanges and a catalyst for innovation transfer. A further example is a woman from Burkina Faso, the director of a company that processes local manioc products and the coordinator of a women’s cooperative. She participated in a training on leadership and organisation for women in rural areas – another HCD measure of the Green Innovation Centres, which brought together more than 40 women from eleven countries in Feldafing. She recalls: “Travel always awakens the spirit and encourages the sharing of experiences”. This inspiration and her passion to share her knowledge, led her to organise her own workshop and to start a mentoring programme to strengthen other women and to create opportunities for income generation. Moreover, she restructured her own business, increased production, created additional jobs, and proudly states that what she learned in Feldafing allows her to impact the lives of over 800 direct beneficiaries.
The current situation regarding the COVID-19 pandemic obviously leaves the conference rooms in Feldafing more quiet than usual. Yet, in times of travel restrictions, the switch to digital formats and virtual learning was made and the location advantage is successfully transferred to the virtual space, e.g. by integrating local partners such as a Bavarian dairy and oil mill in the recent online course on food processing offered by the Green Innovation Centres to continue their cross-regional exchange. Of course, online seminars cannot replace the experience of personal interaction in face-to-face HCD formats. However, Bavarian network partners remain involved and, despite some challenges regarding internet connectivity, inspiration and innovation are continuously spread. Thus, it is proven that the unique synergies, networks, and advantages of the location Feldafing offer great potential for rural development in both every day and exceptional times.