With the agriculture development process there are four groups of people involved that form a hierarchy that could be referred to as the Development Hierarchy as illustrated with the figure to the right. The hierarchy is composed of the donors at the top, followed by the advisor/facilitators contracted to assist the host implement different projects, then the host personal working with the advisors/facilitators and finally the smallholder beneficiaries. It represents how the donors at the top can be isolated from the beneficiaries by the other three layers in the hierarchy. The problem with this is that while the rhetoric is always downward toward the beneficiaries, the vested interest is often upward toward appeasing the donors. This upward vested interest is essential to assure future support in terms of project extensions and new projects. But, it then forces the reporting, such as the quarterly progress reports to the donor, as well as articles to be published in various journals, to be more promotional, supporting the project innovations, rather than objective evaluating the possible reservations expressed by the smallholder beneficiaries. This in turn can gave the donors the impression that a project may be progressing considerably more smoothly than reality, and encourages donors to continue to put more emphasis on the same concept in future project designs, even if there is a major struggle and the smallholder beneficiaries are shying away from the effort.
Design Assumptions: The difficulties come in working down the six steps of the Development Process under which agriculture development projects are conceived. It is a process in which it is very difficult for the donors at the top of the Hierarchy to have any direct contact with the beneficiaries. They are forced to rely heavily on assumptions based on stereotyping such as the often stated concept that smallholder will only produce sufficient food for six months. Assumptions seriously in need of verification before being applied to new countries, or even regions within a country, etc. It also encourages projects to be based on ideals that in their home country in the developed world appear successful. However, these developed country ideals may be based more on what the developers and promoters are encouraging, rather than what has been fully accepted by the donor country’s end users. This will convey the impression of a higher level of end user acceptance within the donor countries than may be correct. An example would the irrigation scheduling consistent with the computed evapotranspiration needs of the crop. This is heavily promoted in Colorado and the Western US, but few farmers have sufficient operational flexibility to effectively utilize this level of irrigation scheduling, even when well informed. It is also often not in their economic best interest when they factor water management into their overall economic farm management activities. However, irrigation scheduling is still major component of water management development projects, even when applied to considerable less efficient delivery systems in which water entitlements are poorly defined and access is shared down a water course, with even less potential or farm level economic justification for detailed scheduling.
In addition designing future projects donors also have to rely heavily on secondary information that has come up the hierarchy from similar projects that may be more promotional of the donor’s objectives, then the beneficiaries’ interests. Such promotional reports are willingly accepted by donors happy to see at least an initial success of their innovations, but often not having the time to fully scrutinize the information to make certain it contains the information that will distinguish donors and facilitators promotions from sustainable innovations. Nor will donors provide the implementing facilitators with the reporting guidelines needed to make the distinction between promotion and sustainable innovation.
The process by which a rural development project is initiated can be an expensive and time consuming process that can consume up to two years and result in a total investment by all involved approaching $500,000. With that much time and money committed it becomes exceedingly difficult to make any major adjustments after implementation.
Beneficiary Representation: During the development process the basic innovation is determined at the earliest stage of Project Identification and Project Design, well before it is practical to involve the smallholder beneficiaries in the process. After the basic project design the process becomes mostly fine tuning and reinforcement rather then diagnostic as to what is the most urgent need of the beneficiaries. During this identification and design phase the beneficiaries are represented by the host government or other host country organizations. This may not be the best representation as in the context of what might best be called a financially suppressed economy there is very little, if any, tax base and the government may be effectively financially stalled. Thus, there may be little actual contact between the beneficiaries and the government officers representing them, and given the highly autocratic management style common to most developing countries this limited contact could be more supervisory than interactive. Also, the host government may have vested interest in promoting government sponsored support services even though they have long proven to be ineffective and disbanded or attempted to be privatized. They may also be more concerned with potential personal rewards in terms of supplemental income for participating in the project or some informal income opportunities that may be more a financial necessity than serious corruption. Most likely the nearly blanket and slanderous condemnation of private traders, without any supporting evidence, originated with the host government’s vested interest in promoting public sector support services.
Initial Input of Beneficiaries: In the project development process the first real opportunity to meet with beneficiaries will only come during the appraisal phase when the designers representing the donors can actually make field visits. However, these visits tend to be fairly brief, and within the time constraints heavily orchestrated by the host representatives often resulting in many interview questions getting the AWOA treatment (Answered WithOut Asking).
Rigid Contracting: During the post appraisal contracting phase, everything quickly becomes rigidly set in the RFP, with all the assumptions made in the design and in serious need of verification, now presented as indisputable fact not to be questioned, so the bidding contractors, who usually will have the greatest direct contact with beneficiaries, have very little flexibility in how to respond, or suggest the professional qualifications most needed to implement the projects. Thus, when the development process is finally involving the people with the most interaction with the beneficiaries, or in direct contact with field staff who are in direct dialogue with the beneficiaries and could provide substantial insight into innovations that will lead to more efficient projects, their input is restricted by the very strict wording of the RFPs they have to respond to as well as the limited space authorized for the technical proposals.
Leveraged Participatory Process: Ultimately, when the contract is awarded and an implementation team is in place to finally have some extensive interaction with the smallholder beneficiaries through some type of participatory involvement, there is really nothing left to decide. Too much time has lapsed since project identification, too much money has been invested as well as the staffing as specified in the RFP hired with full employment contracts for the duration of the project and relocated to the extent there can be no easy backing out. Thus, there is no alternative but to make certain the participatory process is leveraged to comply with donor’s conceived intervention basically by having no alternatives for consideration, make the best of it, and promote the project as a strong success back up the development hierarchy to the donors.
Logically Disconnected Result: Perhaps one of the most logically disconnected project components is the proposal to address remoteness with a “market information service” presumably to provide the smallholder with some leverage to negotiate with the dealers for reduced transport costs. This totally overlooks all the legitimate extra costs that can go into serving remote areas that need to be quantified before determining if a market information service can be effective. The items needing quantification might include:
- Use of smaller vehicles with less load capacity for off tarmac use.
- Tran-shipment of goods to or from the smaller vehicle somewhere near where the tarmac and unpaved roads meet.
- Warehouse space and storage costs to make the transfer.
- Additional fuel because the smaller vehicles are actually less fuel efficient on a t/km basis?
- Slower speeds that require additional time to travel each km on unpaved road, increasing the labor costs.
- Additional number of trips to deliver or pick-up the same amount of commodities, again increasing the labor costs.
- Additional fuel required due to slower travel with more frequent braking, accelerating, etc.
- Additional frequency of repairs, from more bouncing around in and out of unpaved ruts, adding wear and tear to the tires, suspension, brakes, axles, etc.
In Zambia one private trader mentioned that the cost difference in the standard transportation contract terms of $/t/km between highway and off tarmac was triple. Given the overall suppressed financial environment in Zambia and other similar developing countries, and the impact that has on limiting what dealers can charge for services, if all the data were available, this could easily be a reasonable and transparent cost differential. However, since the RFP in questioned specified a “market information service” with no allowance or request to make the simple computations to confirm that the cost differences were not justified and the “market information system” was the only effective means of addressing the issue, all responding contractors dutifully complied with the request and put forth plans for a “market information system” as the only answer to the problem. Are the relatively simple computation mentioned above what is needed to separate a promotional innovation from an effective innovation? How much time, effort, and expense would it require to make this analysis relative to the total financial commitment to the “market information system”?
Since this is such a complete logical disconnect from reality perhaps those donor personnel committing public funds for this effort by signing such documents and thus assuming legal responsibility should be compelled to use their personal resources instead of public funding, or when the “market information system” fails to meet the objectives, refund the money squandered from personal resources.
Donor Recognition: The real need here is for the donors to understand:
The degree they are isolated from the beneficiaries,
The degree the secondary information they are basing their project designs on could be more promotional coming up the development hierarchy to assure future funding then objective,
The extent those representing the beneficiaries during the initial project design may have substantial vested interested inconsistent with the needs of the beneficiaries,
Get some more informal input from the advisor/facilitators with the most direct and in-depth contact with the beneficiaries,
Provide guidelines for progress reports that include those issues that could separate the donor and advisor/facilitators ideological promotions from sustainable development innovations capable of continuing past donor funding and facilitation, as illustrated below regarding farmer organizations,
Request the implementing contractor confirm all the assumptions that went into the design, and
Much greater flexibility in responding to RFPs so proposed innovations will actually meet the needs of the beneficiaries, and the encouragement to look at other options, if they do not.
Last Revised: 4 July 2007