Enabling poor rural people
to overcome poverty



Five insights

This agreement reflects an understanding among the core partners at the completion point of the completion evaluation process to adopt and use the learning and recommendations from the completion evaluation in the implementation of the Andhra Pradesh Participatory Tribal Development Project and in the design of new projects and programmes aimed at the development of tribal people. The core partners included the Ministry of Tribal Affairs of the Government of India, the Tribal Welfare Department of the Government of Andhra Pradesh, the concerned ITDAs (Seethampeta, Parvathipuram, Paderu, Rampachodavaram), the Development Cooperation Section of the Embassy of The Netherlands in New Delhi, the Girijan Cooperative Corporation, Outreach (an NGO), the National Institute for Agricultural Extension Management, and IFAD (represented by the Asia and the Pacific Division and the Office of Evaluation and Studies).


Participation and empowerment

When it was designed, the APTDP was a pioneer in stressing community participation. In this sense, the project was unique in reaching tribal groups and communities and was quite distinct from the conventional sectoral and departmental approaches practised at the time.

The platform for participation that was developed by the APTDP benefited from the experiences of other projects aimed at rural development and poverty alleviation, including the SHG-model experimented in the IFAD-supported Tamil Nadu Women's Development Project. The other institutions created to promote participatory development included village development committees, VTDAs, grain banks and various interest groups linked to specific activities (for example, irrigation, soil conservation and health), as well as the recruitment of agricultural consultants. In addition, one novel concept introduced by the GCC was the formation of community coordination teams consisting of groups of dedicated young professionals who lived in tribal villages to assist in social mobilization, awareness-building and the identification of needs and priorities around which development interventions could be built.

Overall, the project has brought about changes in the tribal development scene by creating space during implementation for a multi-stakeholder approach with a specific focus on tribal people. One achievement has been the shift in focus from the limited objective of increasing employment opportunities through labour-intensive schemes to the objective of programme management that is initiated, executed and monitored by the community and of the empowerment of tribal people as partners in the improvement of their own natural resource base and means of livelihood. By and large, communities have responded positively to this approach, demonstrating that, with appropriate support, many of the key issues afflicting the welfare of tribal peoples may be resolved. For example, in spite of the fluctuations in the level of credit delivery, the propensity to save has now become well established among tribal people through the creation of thrift and credit groups.

However, despite good progress in the effort to institutionalize participatory approaches, the concept of participation has been differently understood by different people (in the Government's Tribal Welfare Department, in GCC, among project officers and the staff in the ITDAs, and elsewhere) at different times. Hence, the participation strategies applied were different among the various ITDAs depending largely on the perceptions of the project officers and related staff in a given period. Due to the short tenure of project officers and other government staff, there was inadequate continuity in approaches and in the emphasis on community participation. It must also be stated that the sequencing of project initiatives was not carried out in a manner likely to reinforce community participation. For example, the investments in natural resource development were not linked to the building of tribal institutions and the strengthening of the institutions that would eventually take responsibility for the management of the natural resource base.

Moreover, participation was invariably linked with an activity. The strategy aimed at involving tribals in, for example, the execution of irrigation schemes, horticulture development, soil conservation initiatives, or savings and credit activities. Thus, the APTDP was set up in such a way that social mobilization and community participation were primarily seen as a mechanism to prepare people for the delivery of services. Using participation as an independent process mainly aimed at empowerment was not a central feature in the APTDP. Nor was this concept fully internalized by the executing agencies, whose thinking was by and large driven by the administrative and bureaucratic practices of the time, which emphasized the intensive involvement of state structures in development activities. More could have been achieved in terms of social mobilization. IFAD and the cooperating institution strongly advocated the need for greater participation, but they may have underestimated the time and interaction required for the new thinking to take root in Government-led programmes, such as the APTDP. Attempts were made to institute community coordination teams at the village level and to recruit agricultural consultants and others to mobilize, motivate, organize and train tribal people. However, the results were moderate for a number of reasons, including the need for more time than was envisaged to develop social mobilization processes. Furthermore, executing agencies require greater incentives to institutionalize structures to support participatory development processes that can gradually lead to the transfer of authority 'downwards'. The evaluation concluded that effective social mobilization is crucial for building participation, and for this it is essential to understand how traditional societies function. Finally, the evaluation noted that there is room for involving competent NGOs in the process from an early stage.

Nevertheless, even the limited concept of participation promoted through the APTDP has been extremely important, as it is has provided a stepping stone for future development programmes and activities. Participation has contributed positively to changes in social relationships not only within the state and at the grass roots and grass-roots institutions, but also among the tribal people themselves, as well as between tribal people and other actors in the informal economy, such as moneylenders, traders and other service providers. The APTDP also assisted in initiating a wave of change in administrative and bureaucratic behaviour, making it more open to the fact that sustainable development is best achieved from the 'bottom'.

The evaluation recognizes that the state, too, has a crucial and concurrent role to play in participatory processes, in particular by promoting a favourable environment that can lead to the erosion of the 'dependency culture' that is deeply rooted in tribal societies, which are accustomed to receiving services and resources from the 'top'. This 'dependency' not only suggests the need to develop self-reliant tribal communities that take charge of their own decisions and their own resource allocation, but also refers to the 'dependency' that has arisen in the Government apparatus and among Government officers supporting tribal development, that is, the project officers, ITDA staff and others whose performance is largely assessed on the basis of the 'results achieved' in tribal development. Therefore, project-related staff often focus on targets and output achievements. Consequently, their approaches do not necessarily favour more open and lasting participatory development, which, by the nature of the concept, requires a longer term investment and is a more laborious process, since the necessary incentives and motivations are lacking. It is therefore important to build a culture in which people are not so much accountable for the 'results achieved', since results are not exclusively in the hands of a single person or institution, but are accountable for their ability to 'manage in order to achieve results'. In sum, overcoming the dependency culture requires a paradigm shift whereby needs are addressed from both angles.

Recommendations

  • Participation should not be confined only to specific activities. Instead, it is necessary to devote attention to local-level institutional development in order to promote grass-roots participation and empowerment following the 'development ladder approach'. This could consist of the institutionalization of SHGs, village development committees and cluster-level (apex) organizations of village development committees, which should all be organically linked, nurtured and facilitated. In this way, participation will not be merely a process determined from the top into which those below are involved.
  • Participation as a means of empowerment does not involve only the delegation of the powers of project functionaries. It includes the entrustment of functions, funds and control to participatory groups at the local level. The building of groups and the development of institutions that are nurtured over a period of time result in a successful empowerment process.
  • Participatory processes can be better sustained beyond the project period if they are institutionalized within existing structures and programmes. This lesson was established during the IFAD Country Programme Review and Evaluation in Viet Nam (2000).
  • Training and capability development for social mobilization should be an integral and regular aspect of project design and implementation. They should not be a one-time affair or training modules implemented in an ad-hoc manner. Given the limited quality of the training institutions (specific to tribal scenarios) in Andhra Pradesh, adequate investments for the development of resource persons, resource materials and training methodologies must be provided on a long-term basis. The institutionalization of the expertise and training skills generated needs to be given careful attention so that the capabilities that are developed become sustained.
  • The project design should make provision for the involvement of competent NGOs in activities such as the social mobilization at the grass roots, awareness-building and the training of tribal people, as well as in service provision in selected areas depending on the comparative advantage of the NGO. It is recommended that NGOs be identified and selected during the project design process, so that different project partners are aware of each others roles and responsibilities. Selected NGOs should become part of the design process, following a thorough capacity assessment of each institution.
  • Supervision missions have played an important role in changing administrative behaviour and in providing implementation support. It is extremely important that the composition of supervision missions is based on specific project requirements and that adequate financial resources are available for this activity.

Building community institutions

Building community institutions was central to the strategy of the APTDP. Such an institutional capacity was perceived as the engine for the participatory planning, implementation, maintenance, ownership and sustainability of activities. The APTDP established a variety of local-level institutions, including SHGs, cluster-level associations of SHGs, user groups/village development committees (such as for education, health, irrigation and grain banks) and a nodal institution in the form of VTDAs. The latter were conceived on the one hand as the forum for the expression of community priorities and concerns and on the other hand as a means of delivering projects and programmes to the communities. The leaders and members of VTDAs were chosen by the communities as their representatives, and generally this selection required the approval of the traditional councils of elders, so that the relationship between the new and the old did exist, albeit on an informal basis.

The performance of the various institutions varied widely from village to village, depending largely on the level and regularity of project inputs, both economic and motivational. The activities of the committees, often including VTDA, came to focus on a particular individual, and in many cases committees effectively consisted only of this one individual. The chief function of the leader of VTDA, who in general was the most quick-witted and articulate of the young men, was in effect to act as a spokesperson for the village, but VTDA rarely developed into a genuine forum as it had been designed to do. It was usual for the VTDA leader to consult the village elders (the traditional authority) before agreeing to or promoting a particular scheme, which indicates that the collective authority of the village still resided with the elders. It should be pointed out that VTDA did serve an important purpose during the operation of the project by acting as two-way link between the community on the one hand and ITDA on the other, and after project completion there have been signs that this function has continued. It is the leader of VTDA, for example, who is responsible for conveying the requests and petitions of the villagers to ITDA, but no reports - not the United Nations Office for Project Services' supervision reports, nor project completion reports, nor the Mid-Term Review - considered that VTDAs had developed into a sustainable institution.

The activities of the various sectoral committees also tended to revolve around a single individual and, often, around a single issue. In several villages, for example, the 'education committee' consisted of one person who had accepted responsibility for ensuring that the children all attended school and to get the non-attenders to return to school. The health committee often did not operate at all, and its intended functions were being carried out by the community health worker. Again, it is important to recognize that these phenomena are not necessarily a sign of failure, but they are far from what was originally envisaged and suggest that the design of these institutions was ambitious and complex. In the case of water users groups, which have a crucial task in maintaining and repairing the irrigation systems, the evidence indicates that this task was not carried out in the formal and regular way that the project had intended. The SHGs generally experienced an initial period of activity and enthusiasm that later waned, partly because they lacked incentives after they had obtained the matching grant, but also because of a lack of sustained guidance and motivation from the outside.

A factor to be noted is that the APTDP lacked a coherent strategy to ensure the convergence of community institutions with the traditional power structure on the one side and with Government institutions on the other. The existence of such parallel institutional structures may create difficulties in achieving better bargaining power for the community and in fostering genuine participatory development. The building of community institutions that allow tribals to become self-reliant and to reduce their dependency on external institutions that have provided support for years is a process that requires time, a continuity of efforts and sustainable support mechanisms. Therefore, although the project brought about changes in attitude among development workers at all levels in terms of the need to promote effective local institutions, further work is required in order to create strong, lasting community institutions.

Recommendations

  • It is necessary to examine the roles and relationships in traditional societies, as well as the traditional community institutional arrangements that exist. In particular, the nature of traditional authorities must be systematically investigated, and the necessary links between new and old institutions explicitly recognized, in order to avoid the emergence of parallel and potentially divisive structures.
  • Villages with strong traditional institutions find it easier to internalize new approaches and technologies, as well as to upgrade their knowledge. Therefore, in order to obtain greater impact, the intensity of project delivery needs to be provided based on the local institutional capacity available at the village level, rather than being predetermined and delivered in an equal manner across all villages.
  • The design of future projects in this regard should be more realistic about the formal extent of community involvement. Small communities with no previous experience of formal institutions are unlikely to support a number of active committees. Therefore, it is fundamental to rationalize the formation of village development committees, prioritizing those that respond to the critical village-level requirements.
  • NGOs must be involved in the creation and support of nascent institutions.
  • The sustainability of community institutions must be viewed in terms of a much longer time-scale than simply the seven years of project duration. Further, such community institutions should not be designed only for service delivery or acceptance purposes, but should be seen more broadly as platforms for community participation and empowerment.

The relationship between protest movements and development projects

The APTDP offers an unusual, possibly unique opportunity to examine the role IFAD can play in conflict resolution, in particular since, because of it, one can assess the relationship between a radical protest movement, Naxalism, and the operation of a participatory development project in tribal areas. During the 1970s and 1980s, the project area witnessed a campaign of varying intensity mounted by the PWG, which in its early stages at least appears to have been motivated by a genuine desire to end the exploitation of tribal peoples and to achieve for them a measure of social justice in terms of land, resources and opportunities. At that time, the PWG served to highlight the problems of the tribal people and the urgent need for measures to protect them, in particular by putting an end to the alienation of their tribal lands and their exploitation by unscrupulous moneylenders and middlemen.

What made the APTDP different from other interventions aimed at the advancement of tribal people? Primarily, one must record that the APTDP was the first project exclusively devoted to the development of tribal people that was supported by an international organization in Andhra Pradesh. The mere involvement of IFAD in such a sensitive area was seen as a serious effort by the Government to respond to tribal disaffection and exploitation. IFAD provided a silent bridging leadership, playing the role of a facilitator that could be trusted and was committed to furthering the interests of the tribal communities.

It is not easy to identify which aspects of the project most impressed the PWG, but they appear to have appreciated in particular the mechanism for the involvement of VTDAs in participatory contract procedures for the construction of irrigation and soil conservation works and related activities. This innovation was eventually adopted across the entire state in all tribal areas through a Government order that made the PWG realize that serious efforts were being undertaken to uplift the overall well-being of tribal people. The PWG also appreciated that APTDP attempted to depart from the traditional top-down, bureaucratic model of development and provided an alternative that promoted empowerment and transferred decision-making, development planning, implementation and ownership to the tribals. This is illustrated by several instruments pioneered by the project that allowed for deeper beneficiary participation and self-determination, such as the creation of community coordinator teams, VTDAs, SHGs, participatory contract procedures, specific interest groups and village development committees.

IFAD's facilitation role significantly contributed to raising awareness within the Government and civil service cadres of the necessity of dealing with the protest movement in a judicious manner based on a determination to understand the root causes of the protest movement and to find ways to address them rapidly and systematically. IFAD assisted in initiating a process of change in bureaucratic attitudes that demanded more of a listening and partnership-oriented stance in terms of the development of the girijans, as well as emphasizing the need to address the concerns of the movement through social and economic advancement measures, as well as through a law-and-order approach. For instance, the lack of access to land was a prime grievance of the tribal people that had led them to support the Naxalite movement. The same issue is one of the determining factors behind the Tamil insurgency in Sri Lanka (IFAD Country Programme Evaluation of Sri Lanka, 2001). Consequently, the APTDP's advocacy role led the Government to distribute land to tribal people in the Bhadrachalam and other ITDAs. The APTDP brought in a fresh approach and a new mind-set within the Government and civil service in tackling a conflict that had created intense disruption in the people's daily lives.

There has apparently been a corresponding change in the Naxalite movement itself, with the departure of many of the idealistic cadres of earlier times, so that the movement now appears to be less one of educated ideologues and more a focus for frustrated and unemployed youth. This may also be partly attributed to IFAD and the APTDP. In its earlier days, the PWG gained momentum because of the support of disenchanted tribal people who were being obliged to live in abject poverty and who looked up to the PWG as a possible highway to break out of their misery. However, the APTDP brought about changes in and the development of ITDAs, thereby creating an atmosphere of optimism and empowerment and leading the tribal people gradually to distance themselves from the PWG, thus weakening the Naxalite movement in the project area.

The APTDP also instigated better operations by moneylenders, contractors and other private service providers in the tribal areas. Through its commitment to uplifting the livelihoods of tribal people, the APTDP provided the PWG with a yardstick to measure and monitor the operations of the informal sector. Moneylenders, contractors, traders and others were compelled to provide better deals to tribal people in terms of interest rates and farm-gate prices for produce in order to avoid reprisals from the PWG. This has forced out a sizeable number of informal operators in the project area, in particular those whose prime objective was their own personal enrichment at the expense of tribal people. In fact, the APTDP paved the way for the Government to ban contractors from the tribal areas, ordering that all works should be executed by village-level SHGs.

Recommendations

  • The current notion of tribal development is largely based on 'area development' and 'community participation'. That there are different landholding groups or classes, that there are big and small tribes in each village, or mandal, or district, that women have to be treated specifically are all issues that need to be fully built into the philosophy of tribal development. This will contribute to more equitable and sustainable development.
  • Serious and urgent measures must be taken by the Government to maintain the physical and social assets created under the APTDP. In terms of natural resource management, as well as social programmes, much has been achieved, but the achievements are still fragile. In order to be sustainable, further investment in infrastructure, training programmes and adaptive research is essential. It is also essential that the levels of competence and commitment of the senior officers, in particular the ITDA project officers, be maintained.
  • The Government must continue its commitment to participatory approaches to development programmes and to a step-wise transfer of decision-making to the local level, with a concurrent emphasis on capacity-building.

Exit strategy and post-project monitoring

The lessons and recommendations under this heading have been repeatedly observed through a series of evaluations of IFAD-supported projects undertaken in the past few years, not only projects in India, but also in other countries and regions. Thus, it is common to find projects that have been designed and implemented with limited attention to a strategic phase-out so as to ensure continuity in institutional support, processes and resources to achieve the consolidation of investments, leading ultimately to enhanced results and a lasting impact. More often than not, IFAD has withdrawn its presence and involvement after the project closing date, leaving its partners at country level and primarily those at the grass-roots level in a state of disarray. However, this primary issue is not one that IFAD alone must reflect upon. The other main partners involved in development interventions must also address it.

The phasing out of the APTDP was not designed or even planned for. The sustainability of institutions and their socio-economic significance depend basically upon the stream of benefits and the support structures left in the wake of withdrawal. The use of social-fund mechanisms like savings and thrift groups and community health initiatives, which are so effective for sustaining initiatives, were not conceptualized and carried further. Participatory groups and their organizations were not well integrated into apex institutions or federations, so that they could not have continued as support organizations at the village and cluster levels.

The absence of a planned withdrawal of the Fund and related institutions, such as the United Nations Office for Project Services, which provided technical support through supervision missions, and the lack of a capability of community institutions to assume responsibility for their own development are a cause for concern. For example, soon after project closure, the Government of Andhra Pradesh banned daily wage and contract appointments among local-level community functionaries, who were deeply distressed by this step. Overall, the project should have left behind people-centred, community-driven institutions at the village, mandal and ITDA levels. A little more organizational and financial support for the community-participation structures already established would have created an alternative paradigm to alleviate the excessive dependence upon ITDAs and their staff, thereby further fostering the participatory process and overall development.

The evaluation experience of the IFAD-supported Tamil Nadu Women's Development Project (1999) confirms the need for the articulation of a post-completion strategy. The Tamil Nadu Women's Development Project is recognized as a highly successful intervention that promoted innovative approaches to empowerment, capacity-building and income generation. After project closure (December 1998), the project was scaled up and replicated in all the districts of Tamil Nadu by the state government. Nevertheless, it was clear that the withdrawal of IFAD had created a vacuum that exposed the project and its implementing institutions to external pressures, including the pressures from the bureaucracy and from politicians. The project could no longer benefit from IFAD's support in shielding off undue interference, ensuring neutrality and minimizing delays, for instance in the selection of NGOs or of commercial banks that could become involved in project activities. The Tamil Nadu Women's Development Project illustrates that, even when a project is regarded as successful, there is a need for an appropriate degree of IFAD stewardship after project completion.

It was fortunate that the APTDP was followed up by a project (the Andhra Pradesh Participatory Tribal Development Project) funded by IFAD that covered other districts in Andhra Pradesh. The follow-up project was entrusted to the same executing agency (the Tribal Welfare Department of the Government of Andhra Pradesh). This provided some continuity in a few areas, but by no means provided a substitute for a clear 'exist strategy'. In those cases where a second-phase project is a 'second phase' in a more complete sense (that is, in terms of area coverage, the target groups and interventions), a phasing-out plan would still be required at the end of the 'first phase'.

Recommendations

  • It is necessary to devote serious attention during project design to provision for the development of a post-project completion plan, including the identification of institutional responsibilities and roles.
  • There is a need for immediate assistance by IFAD and the state in order to consolidate the achievements and the impact of the APTDP, particularly with respect to capacity-building among the communities and their institutions. This would require the allocation of additional resources particularly devoted to social mobilization and training.
  • The Fund's continued assistance during the post-project period is often critical. This task would be facilitated by the establishment of a post-completion monitoring system to identify important issues requiring IFAD follow-up and guidance. Such post-completion monitoring may highlight the need to undertake specific follow-up studies in areas that offer potential for knowledge generation and to document field-level innovations that can be further tested, as well as to contribute to IFAD's impact-monitoring activities. In this regard, future project designs might involve the creation of special funds for institution-building for this purpose. This should be regarded as an integral part of design, and, if needed, the Fund should provide post-project grants to ensure the that such activities are undertaken. IFAD could explore the possibility of using the NGO-Extended Cooperation Programme or the technical assistance grant mechanism for this purpose.

Food decurity, Podu farming and the environment

In terms of natural resource management, the most significant activity of the project has been the attempt to use settled irrigated agricultural systems to replace the traditional methods of shifting (podu) cultivation. The aim is to improve household food security through the cultivation of high-yielding paddy rice and horticultural crops, as well as to protect the environment against deforestation and soil erosion. This necessitates radical changes in patterns and methods of farming and the introduction of farming systems of which the girijans have in general little or no experience. The project 'package' in this respect thus includes training programmes and expert supervision, as well as inputs such as seeds, fertilizer and saplings.

The physical results of the natural resources component have generally matched or exceeded targets, with a sixfold increase in the areas irrigated and the plantation of about 40 000 ha for horticultural crops. Total food production in the project area has increased by an estimated 500% during the project life. However, the figures mask important problems, including the poor maintenance of irrigation systems, a lack of sufficient know-how regarding horticultural techniques and, perhaps most significantly, increased vulnerability to drought because of the dependence on irrigated agriculture at the expense of traditional techniques that included built-in measures to counteract periodic drought conditions. When questioned, the farmers admitted that they were continuing podu cultivation as a fall-back mechanism, or that they would revive it if necessary. The attitude of the authorities to this seems to have been flexible in view of the difficult circumstances.

What needs to be recognized is the scale of the change that is involved in the replacement of a tried-and-tested agricultural pattern by methods requiring different techniques, different seasonal patterns and a different attitude towards natural resources. The key factor here is the need for effective training, guidance and adaptive research in order to support and sustain the transformation. The training programmes need to extend to the trainers, as well as to the trainees, because many of the line department officials have little experience either of tribal communities, or of upland agriculture under the local climatic and geophysical conditions. The programmes also need to be regular and ongoing. The problems involved in a mature cashew orchard are not those involved in a newly planted orchard, and the techniques employed in second-crop cultivation are not identical to those employed in a one-crop system. Fertilizer needs to be supplied, but also to be correctly applied. The work of line departments has been made difficult by frequent changes in personnel and an emphasis on formal statistically verifiable targets. Adaptive research appears to have concentrated too much on commodity-centred activities and not enough on the efficient utilization of natural resources. In addition, the planting of cashew appears to have been regarded as a panacea, resulting in cashew cultivation in unsuitable soils and microclimates. The effects of this can be observed especially in the higher altitudes of the Paderu ITDA.

Recommendations

  • Emphasis needs to be given to preliminary research concerning the choice of horticultural crops in particular areas. Although the project - in theory at least - left the final choice of crop to the villagers, it is clearly vital that the alternatives offered should include only those crops that have proved successful in the particular soil, altitude and climate conditions. Since they have no experience in the cultivation of these crops, the farmers will inevitably (and rightly) be influenced by agricultural officials in this respect. For example, in the Paderu ITDA, given the excellent climatic and agro-ecological conditions, large areas have recently been put under coffee plantation, and even a larger amount of area has been covered with shade-bearing trees. The state government should undertake special initiatives and intensify coffee plantation. Coffee has proved to be very popular with tribal communities and has generated greater economic returns. There has also been a consequential reduction in podu, resulting in positive gains for the environment, also because of the increased forest coverage.
  • The training of the trainers is the first requirement in the training programmes, at least in terms of timing. This training must take account of the fact that the line department officials themselves may have little knowledge either of local conditions, or of tribal societies. Thus, the content of the training must involve the basics in these respects. At the same time, the officials must understand that their authority as experts depends on the genuine level of their expertise in the particular conditions in which they are operating. In other words, their expertise is not a function of their rank, but must be demonstrated.
  • The value of adaptive research can only be proved by results in the field, where the criteria will not be technical or academic, but practical. Thus, adaptive research must be applied and tested at village level, and this in turn depends on a well-trained and vigorous extension service. At present, the extension services under the APTDP are undermanned and undertrained, which suggests that insufficient attention has been given to this critical component of natural resource management in circumstances in which a radical agricultural transformation is being attempted.