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Madibira Smallholder Agriculture Development Project

MadibiraTillerMadibira Smallholder Agriculture Development Project is a 3000 ha rice irrigation scheme in Southern Tanzania. It is located off the Tanzania-Zambia highway some 70 km west of Mafinga, where the tarmac ends. The scheme was constructed through a loan from the African Development Bank and done so in an environmentally friendly manner. It was built on government land and thus beneficiaries were tenants on the land with the expectation of paying rent for its use as well as water access fees. The land was allocated to the beneficiaries in one hectare plots divided into 30 ha irrigation blocks. The first season of rice production was in 1998-99 crop season. It was intended to be owned and operated by a cooperative named “The Madibira Agricultural Marketing Cooperative Society” (MAMCOS). Major donor funding with technical assistance facilitation continued until December 2000, at which point most of the 3000 ha had been developed and cultivated to rice.

Returning in the spring of 2005, 4.5 years after donor funding ended, there was clearly a very positive economic impact of the scheme in the area. The scheme was now fully subscribed with all useable land allocated and even the access road was well maintained. The economic impact was most noticeably demonstrated by the purchase of some 50 Asian built rice based power tillers for tillage and transport as shown in photo above. Three fourths of these were individually financed with only one fourth financed via the credit union, mostly to it officers. The estimated cost of the power tillers with accessories is about US$ 8,000 per unit. Other signs of the positive economic impact of the scheme could be seen in the number of lorries and farm tractors in the area, additional shops with generators, TVs and VCRs.

However, the management might best be defined as Mafia style. MAMCOS still exists, though more by government decree than an effective participatory democratic management effort. There had been no annual meetings or elections of new executive committee members for at least three years. Instead the scheme was being managed by seconded government officials still receiving government salaries. MAMCOS now claims 3,400 members. This would represent an over subscription by 400 people, many of whom were reported to come from outside the designated 5 beneficiary villages. The understanding was that these people were waiting of someone to give up their allocation. It was also rumored that for an informal payment of TSh 500,000 (US$ 500) to the management, the management would assure quick access to the scheme. This could only be done by effectively evicting an established beneficiary, mostly for failure to pay annual fees for rent and water. A situation the management could or could not exercise flexibility with individual beneficiaries. The management was collecting annual fees of TSh 40,000 (US$ 40) from the participants, presumably to cover administrative costs including escrowing funds for future repairs of the scheme. However, while it was possible to get an account of what participants contributed, there was no accounting for expenditures. The impression left was that most of the money was diverted into management’s pocket. There was also the mandatory purchase of TSh 100,000 (US$ 100) in share capital for MAMCOS. This money was kept in a bank some three hours drive away from the scheme to earn bank interest to be paid as a dividend. The share capital appeared to have nothing to do with the financial management of the scheme. It also was expected to disappear. No dividends appear to have been paid nor any share capital refunds made to those who left the scheme. Those protesting the management would quickly find themselves on the list for replacement. This level of mafia style management was just enough to be resented, but not enough to render participation unprofitable.

There remained no formal tenant relationship statement of entitlement, inheritance rights etc. Also, there appeared no additional individual investment in land development and water management, which would be an expensive investment without assured tenancy. The only scheme maintenance being done was the annual cleaning of tunnels where water was diverted from the river into the scheme and which filled with sediment each season. This was all done by subscribed labor at no capital costs to the scheme.

While from a western perspective this appears unacceptable, in most developing countries it is accepted as the unfortunate norm. It is now 10 years since my last visit, and I wonder if the scheme is still operating. One of the host management officers once mentioned that their real plans were to operate the scheme for 10 years for their personal benefit by then it would have deteriorated sufficiently to require major externally funded renovation.

Taking all this into consideration, I still think the project is financially and operationally viable but, like I have mentioned on so many other pages of this website, it will have to keep careful track of overhead costs. This would include emphasizing hiring and training local people to fill most of the management positions rather than bringing in outsider with the extra overhead costs associated with housing, transport etc. Within the five beneficiary villages I think such staffing is easily possible. I have often thought that given the seconded staff desire for self management including claiming up to 10 ha for personal cultivation, a project like Madibira could be turned over to an international NGO for continued operation. In this case Catholic Relief Services (CRS) might be the most ideal. This is because the most of the residents of the area are Catholic and their is a 100+ year old Catholic Mission there, that was started by the Germans when Tanzania was part of German East Africa. I was then managed by the Consolata Fathers from Italy for many decades. It also has a history of agriculture training and support activities.  I would expect CRS could return the scheme to effective operation with one expatriate civil/irrigation engineer volunteer, and rely on local hires for all other staffing needs. It might be something the Consolata Fathers in Italy, with their long term commitment and involvement in the area, would be willing to sponsor on a continuing basis.

It might be desirable for donors to insist on external mangers for project such as Madibiria particularly if they are being reconstructed after failing from excessive “management for personal benefit” or if a host country has a history of projects being prematurely in need of massive reconstruction.

Last Revised: 21 March 2015.

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