The development process for assisting smallholder agriculturists involves four dedicated groups of people each with substantially different perspectives. The four groups form a hierarchy as shown in the graph below that goes from the donors that conceptualizes designs and funds projects, down through the advisors that facilitate projects to the host clients that implement them, and ultimately to the smallholder beneficiaries who are expected to participate in projects and benefit from them. These groups are:
Donors: These are the people who design and fund projects. They include such agencies as the bilateral donors including USAID, DFID, DANIDA, GPZ etc., as well as the multi-lateral donors such as the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and African Development Bank. They have to work with the political structure from which they obtain their funds. This requires conceptualizing on a strategic level to appease their political supporters. An example is USAID’s four strategic objectives into which all projects must fit. Since USAID has the biggest budget their strategic objectives heavily influence other donors, particularly the multi-lateral donor to which USAID makes major contributions. Examples of these strategic concerns are:
- political empowerment of the disenfranchised, such as most smallholders; and
- preservation of the natural resource environment that smallholders are dependent upon.
The donors design the development projects, including specifying in advance what professions will be needed to implement them. The Project Development Process between design and implementation can take up to two years and represent the time between conception and the actual meeting and dialogue with individual beneficiaries.
Expatriate Advisors: The expatriate advisors are required by the donors to be contracted by the clients as a condition for project implementation and funding. They operate from a financially secure position and are hired because they share many of the strategic concerns of the Donors as expressed in their responses to proposals that provide them the contracts to work with the clients for the eventual benefit of the smallholders. They are also recruited for their knowledge and experience in the donor’s strategic objective. They are therefore interested in promoting, to the extent possible, the donor’s concerns and will use their reporting mechanism to emphasize the extent of the donor’s concerns that are being implemented by the beneficiaries. This can be essential to assure continued funding.They are also the primay means of reporting on the project to the outside world as they are responsible for writing the progress report, usually quarterly, to the donor, or to different peridocals both referred or non referred. Neither one of which are readily available to the client or beneficiary. Some of this reporting can become Deceptive Bordering on Dishonest or even expunge information that does not support the accepted politically correct party line. This can nicely institutionalize ideas well beyond their overall effectiveness in assisting the smallholder beneficiaries, and assist with job security through project extensions and new projects, but does little to aid the beneficiaries or lead to more effective means for assisting them.
Clients: The clients are the host government institutions implementing the projects and officially contracting for the Expatriate Advisors. This would normally be from the civil services, either directly or through secondment to the project management unit. These people receive a base salary approximately 1/12 that of the advisors. As a result, they are still seeking additional financial security and a lifestyle comparable to their international colleagues. They will shift with opportunities for supplemental salaries offered from development projects, as well as some possible informal income opportunities. They are content to actively promote the donor agendas, but may not have the ideological commitment to them and are often aware of the limited long term promotional sustainability. In interviewing clients a couple key questions can quickly divert them form the “project party line” to the more realistic appraisal. Given their basic financial means it is difficult to blame them.
Beneficiaries: At the very bottom of this hierarchy are the smallholder beneficiaries who are expected to ultimately participate in the projects and benefit from them. They may have only limited education, mostly from the lack of opportunity, but they are still intelligent individuals who might best be considered as individual entrepreneurs. That is business persons and astute business people at that. However, they normally are primarily concerned with short term returns essential to secure their immediate family needs and perhaps some comfort items such as kerosene lamps and maybe a push-bicycle to commute to and from their fields. They are in need of the most cost-effective support system and not interested in any political baggage that might accompany the support services, but cost them more once donor assistance ends. They also have a limited economic time frame and thus little interest in anything beyond the next cropping season. This presents a large gap between the strategic objectives of the donors conceptualizing projects and the smallholders participants expected to benefit from them. Since the beneficiaries rarely meet the donors, were not really involved in the project design they have little compulsion to participate for participation sake, and will easily divert around a project that does not fully meet thier needs.
The manner in which the development process is set up working through these four hierarchical layers makes it very difficult, if not virtually impossible, for the beneficiaries to have an effective link to the donors. The donors tend to be highly involved in the basic management of projects, so they have only limited time for field visits. An example would be the need for nine signatures on a half page memo with a financial value of less than $500. When they do make field visits they have to be guided by the advisors and the hosts. These people have a highly vested interest in promoting continued funding which can best be done by demonstrating the success of the donor’s conceived project without going through the difficulties they encounter, the limited percent of the beneficiary pool actively participating, or the leakage around their efforts. They will guide the donors to those individuals most cooperative with the project, whether or not they represent a minority of the beneficiary pool of possible participants. This can provide a well orchestrated group response leading to a distorted impression of the success of projects and their long term sustainability. There will be no time for individual meetings with community members, particularly those who have opted out of participating with the project. Given the limited time donors have to make field visits, it would very difficult for them to penetrate far enough into rural communities to make a statistically valid sampling of the beneficiary pool to determine how effect a development project is, and what happens once donor support ends. This can really only be done by a separate independent contract with a local consulting company with specific instruction to fully evaluate the impact of the project. Such consulting efforts should be independent of both the host government and implementing contrator.
The net result of this process is that donor conceived projects can become highly institutionalized in the development process, in excess of their post funding sustainability. Similarly, innovations that would lead to more effective projects that will better serve the smallholder beneficiaries and promote their sustainable improved economic well-being are extremely difficult to implement.
One can only wonder what would happen if a micro-finance project, specifying implementation through farmer organizations for the benefit of smallholders, with a specified long term expatriate staff already fielded into a pre-designated project area, initiated their field work with a rapid rural appraisal activity and found the farmers had previous experience with farmer cooperatives and institutional credit. These experiences were not satisfactory and they were not really interested in repeating them. Would the project then:
- Be cancelled,
- Move to another location to be tried again, or
- Leverage the rapid appraisal process to support the predetermined innovations as the only one offered to the farmers?
Unfortunately, the way development processes operate with the two year lead time and commitment of professional staff, the last option is really the only realistic one. It should be noted that there are numerous studies that indict institutional credit is a far lower priority of the smallholders than the donors!
While there is very little that can be done to alter the overall development process, it is important to recognize the nature of the hierarchy and the extent of the vested interest at each levels and how this can result in the over institutionalization of innovations that actually offer limited results. It is really the task of the Monitoring & Evaluation effort to determine the reporting criteria that will not only determine farmer beneficiaries willingness to participate projects but also the degree they are relying on projects for the services offered. As such the M&E professionals have to represent the underwriting tax payers to assure their taxes are not being squandered and the beneficiaries to make certain they are taking full advantage of the projects. Also, donors could contract for independent assessments, that may best be conducted by local consulting firms with no connection to host governments or expatriate contracting organization. This would mostly be looking at the percent of the total beneficiary pool that is participating, the reason others are avoiding participation, the extent those participating are circumventing the project, etc.