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The Advantages and Disadvantages of Top-Down and Bottom-Up Development Strategies

Updated on June 29, 2016

The main advantage of most bottom-up development strategies is that they focus on sustainability, are not profit-driven, and emphasise the involvement of entire communities, including females, in facilitating their own development, with the assistance of appropriate technology, funded by non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

One such project involves ActionAid providing farmers in Barlonyo, Uganda, with ox-ploughs and high-yield seeds. The Ugandan farmers generally own less than two acres of land each, and were previously exploited by middlemen. With the help of NGOs, the farmers formed a cooperative, and came together to rent a truck, to sell their sesame seed crops themselves in a nearby city.

The Three Gorges Dam in China.
The Three Gorges Dam in China. | Source

This project has had tangible results; the farmers now receive three times as much money for their crops, enabling them to send their children to school. The project has therefore had a sustained impact, as education will increase the chances of the farmers' children leading successful lives, escaping the poverty cycle.

On the other hand, top-down projects rely on large sums of money, often in the form of a loan, to fund large construction projects.

One such example is the Pergau Dam in Malaysia; it was funded by £234 million from the UK government, but required a further £100 million from the Malaysian government. The dam is an example of tied aid; the Malaysian government was required to purchase £1 billion of the UK's fighter jets.

The Pergau Dam produces electricity which is sent to Kuala Lumpur, thus bypassing the poorer rural communities. The reservoir only has sufficient water to run the hydroelectric power plant for a few hours per day, illustrating that tied-aid is almost entirely profit drive, and has little consideration for sustainable planning in the receiving country.

However, top-down projects do have the benefit of scale; the Three Gorges Dam in China protects over 100 million people from flooding.

Top-down projects are commonly in the form of a dam; these cause the loss of habitat, and the Three Gorges Dam contributed to the decline of the Yangtze river dolphin population, which is now categorised as functionally extinct. It also displaced over 1 million people, often with very little compensation, again showing how top-down projects tend to show less concern for the most impoverished people.

Both top-down and bottom-up projects are at risk of mothballing, but bottom-up projects arguably have the most tangible effect on the people who need the most help.


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