The Sustainability and Peace Institute (SPI) model of rural development in Sierra Leone and Togo

Frans Verhagen - January, 2006

Creating Sustainable Communities

Frans C. Verhagen, M. Div., M.I.A., Ph.D. is a sustainability sociologist, co-founder of Earth and Peace Education International (EPE), and director of its sustainability education and research program. He is also the founder and president of the International Institute of Monetary Transformation.

One of the major philosophical trends shaping 21st century reality is the trend towards integration. After some four hundred years of the use of the scientific method, which analyses, dissects and breaks into small parts the complex realities of social and ecological life, the need for integration is now seen in many areas, leading to an ever growing number of hyphenated disciplines, such as biochemistry, and interdisciplinary programs of study. The same tendency can be seen in the values realm. Here a global effort of the last ten years has led to the integrated statement of social and ecological values in the Earth Charter.

  This trend towards integrating social, ecological and economic realities is destined to become the leading planning philosophy in both the industrialized and agricultural worlds of our times and is now becoming most evident in the sustainability revolution of which Andres Edwards (2005) recently presented an excellent overview in The Sustainability Revolution: Portrait of a Paradigm Shift (New Society Publishers).

  The SPI model of rural African development is part of this sustainability revolution: it combines best practices in sustainable development and conflict resolution. It focuses on a sustainable use of energy and water for rural areas and trains community leaders in a broadly conceived peace education. Its value system is based upon EPE’s integrated framework of contextual sustainability, which is closely related to the integrated value system of the Earth Charter. Let me briefly describe the principles that underlie the model, its components, and the present status of its implementation.


1. The model is a civil society model of rural development. There is a definite need for a non- governmental approach in addressing the social and ecological problems and challenges in African countries. Presently the main African governmental initiatives for development are taken by the African Union (AU), the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), and various regional initiatives. Accompanying these African initiatives is the G8 Africa Action Plan, which is committed ‘to promote peace and security in Africa, to boost expertise and capacity….’ Though these initiatives are valuable, a non-governmental approach with a definite bio-centric orientation to people and planet well-being is a necessary complement to these governmental initiatives. This civil society contribution is also recognized by the UPEACE Africa Program’s five-year program which states, “What is often crucially missing in government programs (parentheses are mine)  is the capacity of civil society to provide the framework within which differences are contested peacefully, prejudice is neutralized, bigotry is mitigated, and just and equitable representative democracies arise.”

 2. The SPI model considers ecological integrity not one issue among many, but the organizing principle for all issues. Thus, in situations of civil war or other conflict situations, the model not only emphasizes the social and ecological consequences of conflict, but also points to the need for imagining socially and ecologically sustainable futures, thus bringing conflict mediation and resolution to a higher frame of reference that all can share, i.e. a healthy environment.

3. Given that the economies of most African countries are still predominantly agricultural and that no healthy economy and society can be built up without a local food security system, the major emphasis of the SPI model is to contribute to sustainable agricultural systems, so that dependency on food imports is reduced in the short, medium and long term. Given this emphasis on agriculture, the SPI is to be located in rural areas, preferably near a major urban area.

4. Given that economic development and ecological integrity are impossible in tribal war-torn countries, the SPI model emphasizes the non-violent resolution of tribal strife and warfare as an integral part of its development approach.

5. Though the emphasis of the SPI model is (bio) regional, it also analyses, theorizes and mobilizes about balanced external relations both within Africa, the developing and the industrial worlds, and with international institutions such as the UN, the IMF and World Bank. It promotes local self-reliance and autonomy without promoting autarchy and is based upon the principle of subsidiarity as explained, among others, by the International Forum on Globalization (

6. The SPI Model sees Africans themselves as the primary agents responsible for changing their normative contexts in politics, economics and culture. Using their own cultural and ecological traditions and an integrated set of positive social and ecological values, they can develop the knowledge and aptitudes that can also be shared with the industrial world that is in great need of symbols of social cohesion and ecological integrity.

Given the above principles, the SPI model provides a model of holistic engagement in sustainability and peace research, education, and mobilization. In these three program areas it wants to collaborate and network with African and non-African NGOs that subscribe to this approach to social and ecological well-being.

Components of the SPI Model

The SPI model trains community leaders in rural extension work in renewable energy and water management or eco-tourism, as well as the skills necessary for peace building. For three months these leaders are trained at the Institute using a core curriculum of peace studies that is similar to the one offered at the University of Peace in Costa Rica.

When the Institute is not being used for training, the facilities are used by domestic or foreign tourists, one of the major revenue sources after five years, when the grant monies have been used up. The extension services and training fees are the other two revenue streams that will provide for the self-reliant operation of the Institute. A Sustainability and Peace Education Consultation, which would provide the baseline data to evaluate the model’s effectiveness after five years, is also planned. This evaluation procedure is considered necessary for both financial and scientific reasons.

The main outcome of the Institute’s training program is to empower local people and give them access to income producing activities in eco-tourism and to the use of energy and water that are sustainable and locally controlled. As such the model acts as a counterforce to unsustainable urbanization and against the corporate economic globalization process that is engulfing African nations by keeping rural areas culturally and ecologically vibrant.

 Present status of implementation

In both Sierra Leone and Togo, the land for the Institute was donated by the local authorities. However funds are needed for the erection of the buildings, its computer facilities, photo-voltaic applications and to implement the extension programs and organize the Consultation. Two five-year budgets ($1.3 million each) have been drawn up by EPE and its counterparts in Sierra Leone and Togo to meet these needs. Presently there are six SPI partner teams in industrialized countries pursuing this funding from their governments.


The SPI model of rural development aims to contribute to the emergence of sustaining futures for humankind. Anchored in an integrated framework of social and ecological values, its position on the nature of sustaining futures is, in last instance, a query about values. Australian biologist/environmentalist Davison has framed the issue in this way:

"…the verb sustaining holds open the actively normative questions that the idea of sustainability raises. We are required to probe: What truly sustains us? Why? And how do we know? Conversely, we must ask: What are we to sustain above all else? Why? And how may we do so?" Aidan Davison, Technology and the Contested Meanings of Sustainability, SUNY Press, 2001, p.64.