Reviewing Katine: What’s happening in livelihoods?

27 June, 2009

In her article on this topic, Madeleine Bunting commented “The livelihoods component of the Katine project has caused ongoing concern. Many times we have reported, and observers have commented, that not enough of the budget has been devoted to improving livelihoods. The vexed question over whether we should be giving what the villagers have repeatedly said they wanted – cattle – has repeatedly been raised.

Some of this disquiet seems to have been taken on by Amref and Farm-Africa because some interesting shifts in policy seem to have taken place. There is more emphasis on giving inputs – this is described as “hardware” in development lingo – such as seeds, tools, wheelbarrows and watering cans. The balance between hardware and “software”, or training, has been reversed in the livelihoods component so that more is being spent on the former.”

Later in the article Madeline rightly asks, in relation to the upcoming Mid-Term Review, “Can we have some explanation of why the approach on livelihoods shifted?” The reasons matter.  A subsequent comment from Farm Africa, who provide technical support to the Livelihoods teams, provided some clarification. They reported that “The software to hardware shift was in response to political pressure rather than internal reflection and learning. Politicians, especially at the sub-county level, were comparing KCPP with Government programmes that are hardware heavy, for instance the Northern Uganda Social Action Fund (NUSAF). The livelihoods component in particular was also being compared to the other components; Water, that sinks and rehabilitates boreholes; Health and Education, that build clinics and classrooms respectively, and being told to put more into hardware.”

While AMREF has obliged by providing more “hardware” such as seeds and tools, Farm Africa “are more convinced than ever that the approach of giving more seeds than trainings is not prudent. A significant number of the seedlings in the nursery had failed, mainly due to poor management, perhaps as a result of a lack of follow up training. This follow up training for the seedlings was not feasible due to the amount of the budget that was diverted to hardware. The backbone of our approach has always been to increase production by introducing new technologies and techniques rather than handing out seeds.”

This development is worrying for a number of reasons. Many development  NGOs, including probably Farm Africa and AMREF, would argue that advocacy is an important part of their work, and that they have competence in this area.  If so, why has Farm Africa caved in on an issue it believes in? Is it because they were unable to provide solid evidence from their projects elsewhere that training does make a difference? Or, was it simply the case that local authorities were impervious to the evidence that was presented, because they were trying to meet their constituents’ needs, regardless of their wisdom? Both prospects should cause some re-thinking. The same questions also apply to AMREF, who have been party to this change in direction. In the last (“Conclusions”) page of their 2007-2017 corporate strategy it is stated that “As we gather knowledge and evidence in our programme work and research, we will develop advocacy initiatives to influence policy makers to promote identified best practices.”

The issue of actual evidence is important. It is not self-evident that training will provide more sustainable development than material aid. Part of the “theory-of-change” behind the provision of training is the assumption that information about good agricultural practices (for example) will be passed on from one farmer to the next. Examples have been identified where this has happened. But comments by others (“Dr Jazz”)  underneath Madeleine Bunting’s article also highlight the fact that in some cases neighbours not only do not cooperate this way, but they actively sabotage each others efforts. Another commentator (“Ugandalife”) noted that that in their experience ” information is not generally shared easily. Information is considered an asset and therefore worth money. We have encountered this several times and it is hard to change this attitude.”

The idea that good practices will be imitated and reproduced by others is widespread amongst development projects, in just about all sectors e.g health, education, water and sanitation, livelihoods, etc. But just as common is the widespread failure by development agencies to invest any time and effort into systematically monitoring when and where (i.e. under what conditions) adoption by others actually takes place. This is worrying, because it suggests that many development agencies are isolated from important important strands of thinking that they could learn from. For example, the considerable body of literature that now exists on the “diffusion of innovation” Ironically, much of the early research in this field was done in relation to the adoption of agricultural research findings.

One of the implications of the concerns outlined above are that the MTR team should pay attention to: (a) where assumptions are being made about good practices being adopted by others, (b) what efforts are being put into monitoring how, when and where this is happening.

….

A second set of questions was asked at the end of Madeleine Bunting’s article: “Has some thought been given as to how to mitigate the tension over the fact that only a few people are benefiting from the free seeds and tools?
How significant are those tensions – are some people benefiting much more from this project than others? Could the project end up causing more disagreement and community fragmentation at a local level?

Good question, worth trying to answer, under the ambit of equity concerns. If there are tensions there are two possible solutions, but only one of these has been discussed much so far. That is the try to extend coverage to all households. That is an expensive task and apparently beyond the current budget of the project. The other is targeting of households most in need. There has been little explicit discussion of this option, as far as I can see.

Farm Africa’s response to the Madeleine Bunting’s second set of questions was that “As far as we know, there is no significant tension within the community as a result of the intervention. One of the reasons why there is no tension, is because the beneficiaries we are working with were not hand picked by the organisations, but rather selected in a participatory and open process involving different stakeholders through an agreed criteria.” The MTR team needs to find out more about this process, including the agreed criteria. And the results of the selection process. For example, it would be interesting to know what proportion of beneficiaries are from illiterate families (about 16% in the population at large) and from families with high dependency ratios (few able-bodied workers and/or many dependents). Or from the 15% of families that reported only eating one meal a day, in the January 2008 baseline survey.

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