Enabling poor rural people
to overcome poverty



Introduction

The tribal communities are among the most underprivileged people of India. They are severely impacted by poverty and its manifestations, such as low levels of literacy and health care, hunger and malnutrition. They suffer social and political marginalisation and remain vulnerable to exploitation by the more powerful. In order to redress this situation to alleviate the suffering of tribal communities and to remove obstacles to their development, further amendments have recently been introduced in the Indian Constitution. This laudable act should create an enabling environment for promoting the interests of the tribal communities and for harnessing their untapped potential for overall social and economic development. Towards this end, even more action-oriented programmes and projects are required which specifically address the constraints and opportunities for sustainable livelihood and empowerment of the tribal communities.

The Orissa Tribal Development Project (OTDP) was the first of its kind financed by IFAD in India specifically aimed at improving the livelihoods of the tribal people. Its design may not have benefited from the evolution in developmental approaches and policies since its inception ten years ago; yet it has made a noteworthy contribution to highlighting the need for concerted action for ameliorating the social and economic conditions of the tribal communities. It has also been instrumental in refining IFAD’s understanding and approach to its work in the sector, and since the Orissa project the Fund has financed four additional projects specifically targeted at tribal people in India.

IFAD’s Office of Evaluation and Studies (OE) undertook a completion evaluation of the OTDP in November – December 1998. This was the only evaluation IFAD conducted of the project, and as such the evaluation process generated an interesting and diverse range of knowledge that we hope will contribute to improving future programmes, policies and interventions in the sector.

OE takes this opportunity to convey its appreciation to all those involved in the evaluation exercise, including the tribal people who generously offered their time and attention, the government and its officials who facilitated the evaluation and gave useful guidance, and to the representatives of the grassroots institutions who provided invaluable data and background information. A special thanks is due to our core partners in the evaluation process, including the Government of Orissa, the Delhi Directorate of WFP (the co-financier of the project), and our colleagues in the Asia & the Pacific Division in IFAD for their support and contribution to the learning generated through this evaluation exercise.

Seven lessons learned 

Human resources development

The project had a component for Human Resources Development (HRD), which was to be implemented by a qualified NGO. HRD included the building of awareness and self-reliant capabilities among the tribal community in areas such as environmental management, trading practices, money lending, legal and land rights and social and economic development opportunities.

However, the OTDP is a classic example of a development intervention in which the "hardware" side of development was given far more weight than the "software" side, both during design and implementation.

First and foremost, this is reflected in the allocation of financial resources for HRD activities: a mere six percent of total project resources were earmarked for HRD. Even the project management component was allocated more resources (eight percent).

Secondly, right from the design stage the project had an over-bearing faith in technology. It attached over-riding importance to establishing physical infrastructure, agriculture development, land allocation and related hardware activities as the motor of the development process. Consequently, as mentioned above, the project’s funds were allocated mainly in favour of technical and infrastructure activities. This trend continued during implementation, as is, for example, illustrated by the limited efforts made by the project to identify a suitably qualified NGO to replace Agragamee. Instead, OTDP directly implemented HRD activities without having the required experience and profile. This reflected the failure of the project to recognise the prime importance and contribution of the HRD aspect to the overall project objectives and the related development process. In fact, the evaluation believes that limited success in HRD was a principle cause of the shortcomings of the project, since, for example, the target group did not feel "included" and sufficiently integrated in the project.

What the experience here clearly illustrates is that the software side of the development activities such as building participation and training, empowerment and education of the target populations are essential for the success, impact and sustainability of any project or programme of this nature.

The OTDP attempted to promote the well being of the tribal people by following a traditional integrated approach to development through investment in agriculture production, utilisation of natural resources, rural infrastructure, and land survey and settlement. However, the need to "prepare" the development process in the area of social mobilisation and social development prior to launching full-blown productive investment activities cannot be over-stressed. In this way projects and programmes will become "people-centred", thereby instilling a sense of trust and confidence in the beneficiaries towards the project and leading to the requisite sensitisation of the target group as owners and stakeholders. Only thus would they benefit as intended and, equally importantly, be motivated to contribute effectively and willingly to the success of the project, both during implementation and beyond.

The importance of HRD for project authorities is also a dimension to consider. Personnel responsible for project management and implementation need to be sensitised about the project’s objectives and the importance of building grassroots capabilities, and to generate concern and commitment in them towards the intervention.

Knowledge of the rural people

The OTDP highlighted the role and importance of the knowledge of the rural people in the process of the design and implementation of development projects and programmes. Several examples from the project’s evaluation may appropriately illustrate the above. For instance, when the evaluation mission visited a particular village in the project area, it noted excessive silting and damage to some of the Water Harvesting Structures (WHSs). This was surprising given that the WHSs had been developed only a few years earlier. Following discussions with the tribal people, it was learnt that they had impressed upon the concerned engineer for an alternative site for constructing the WHS. This was based on their intimate experience and knowledge of local climatic conditions, water flows and agro-ecological conditions of the terrain indicated for the WHS. However, their suggestions were disregarded and the decision to maintain the site selected a priori was taken by the project authorities, upon the recommendation of the engineer. Another example is the selection by OTDP of coffee as a crop for development on the lands allocated to the tribal people. Very little, if any, coffee was planted during the project by the target group, as this crop is traditionally not favoured due to cultural and economic reasons by the tribal people in Kashipur block (i.e. the project area).

The OTDP evaluation has illustrated the crucial importance to the development process of the knowledge of the tribal people. The tribal people have survived in their environs for centuries without huge amounts of money being spent on their development by governments or others, and over the years they have developed and refined valuable knowledge and problem-solving strategies not only concerning agriculture, farming systems, natural resources management and biodiversity, but also in the areas of health and education, and social organisation and mobilisation (e.g. by forming associations and groups for credit and savings, water use, home economics). Their knowledge and experiences need to be tapped more systematically, and blended accordingly with "modern" technical knowledge suitable to the context and environment in which the tribal people live and operate.

By making use of tribal peoples’ knowledge and experiences, development activities and projects will be relatively easier to implement, and their impact is bound to be far greater.

The evaluation has thus drawn attention to: (i) the need to avoid a one-way, top-down approach to knowledge and technology transfer; and (ii) the value and intensity of untapped knowledge of the rural poor, such as the tribal people in Orissa, which, if used appropriately, can be a useful catalyst in accelerating the development process.

It should also be noted that design missions ought to carefully analyse all aspects related to the tribal population’s practices before designing any form of development intervention. In this regard, among other areas, attention should be given to their cropping patterns and intensity, adoption of technologies, labour force availability. These issues could be analysed by undertaking special studies at the design phase, and kept uppermost during implementation so as to make the best use of locally existing skills and know-how and to ensure that the evolving requirements of the targeted populations are constantly taken into consideration and catered to.

Land rights and tribal people

The OTDP implemented a component for land surveying and settlement, which resulted in the allocation and distribution of dongar (hill) lands to the tribal population in Kashipur block. Until recently, the population in the block were making use of the dongar lands in an informal manner, as and where possible, for agricultural purposes (mainly shifting cultivation). However, access to these lands was not secure and consistent; and land productivity was low.

The benefits of legally secure land tenure are evident from the OTDP experience. From an agricultural point of view, the allocation of parcels of lands and the provision of land titles has reduced shifting cultivation practices, which has consequently promoted relatively sound environmental management practices and helped restore agro-ecological balance. It has also substantially increased the productivity of these lands. From a socio-economic point of view, the project illustrated that when land titles are registered in the names of both spouses, the social and economic status of women is enhanced, providing them with greater security, confidence and independence. It has also provided them with more opportunities for income-generation through activities such as vegetable gardening and small livestock rearing. Overall, then, the ownership of even a tiny piece of land has improved the economic conditions of those concerned. It may be noted that a somewhat better level of literacy was also observed among the beneficiaries.

The Orissa evaluation mission witnessed another feature of prime concern in the land reform process under the project, which concerned the implication on community ownership and management of forest lands and water. Such and other common property resources are particularly important for tribal people, since they derive a large part of their income and nutrition through the processing, consumption and sale of minor forest products. But, as mentioned above, much of the community owned land was individualised, and land titles were recorded jointly in the names of both spouses. While this step was welcome, the package of privatisation of property upset the existing social security for the tribals. Now smallholders in distress could either lease their land to moneylenders and others, or be mobilised by the development process for eviction, settling for cash compensation for their piece of land. In fact, the latter was observed in several areas in Orissa as a result of the development of alumina projects funded by multi-nationals. Hence, such land reform programmes need to be accompanied by opportunities for employment and marketing, access to rural financial services, and institutional support. Provision of such services will contribute to fully unleashing the potential and productivity of the targeted populations.

With regard to the protection of the tribals rights over community forests and other lands, following the central legislation introduced in 1996, the Gram Sabha (Village Assemblies) in the tribal areas has been entrusted to protect the community rights over community land and forest. The OTDP has preceded this Panchayati Raj enactment, and unfortunately this power is not being exercised by the Panchayats in many tribal areas (in Kashipur itself, the GOO has notified the transfer of tribal land to the alumina project companies without consulting the local Panchayats). Moreover, some community lands have also been encroached upon by the rich and powerful. Therefore, projects and programmes promoting land reform should simultaneously pay sufficient emphasis on the management and conservation of community resources such as forest lands. Furthermore, the communal rights of the tribal people over such areas should be safeguarded, as they form an integral part of the overall production system of the tribal populations.

Project management

A special project management unit (PMU) was set-up to implement project activities. The PMU was headed by a project manager, who had a team of technical specialists on secondment from the relevant line departments of the GOO. The relatively poor performance of the project management adversely affected project implementation. This was due to several reasons including the frequent changes of project managers, a top-down approach to implementation with limited participation of the various stakeholders, lack of an appropriate M&E system, frequent key staff vacancies and poor co-ordination amongst the PMU technical staff originating from the various line departments. With regard to the latter, a dimension to be noted is that some OTDP technical staff were stationed in Bhubaneswar and others in Raygada, which did not facilitate co-ordination.

OTDP project management would have benefited from an alternative approach. The frequent transfers (and changes) of project managers created "instability" in the management of the project. There was even a disincentive for project mangers to perform well, since high performers may have been requested to continue on the job whose location was remote and isolated, and on which limited financial incentives were available. As long as project designers maintain the management function within the existing government structures and authority, it is not easy to request governments to alter their practices and policies in this regard. In fact, not only IFAD but also other large donor-funded projects and programmes in India are subject to similar government procedures with respect to staff appointments and transfers. Another related issue is the process of selection and assignment of staff from technical government departments to the project. The OTDP suffered from the lack of a transparent process of staff allocation, some of whom were not adequately equipped technically to discharge their duties effectively. Project management was also not sufficiently prepared for a participatory approach in implementation, and this marginalised the various stakeholders, principally the NGO Agragamee and the beneficiaries themselves.

Continuity, competence and stability of project management are key ingredients for the success of the project, and, moreover, effectiveness of implementation is enhanced when managers and other staff appointments are based on merit and conducted in a transparent manner. Additionally, continuity for a period of three to five years in project management is necessary to build relationships, trust and co-operation among the various project stakeholders. Project managers should be given appropriate incentives and special allowances to perform and remain committed to the job, especially in those duty stations which are remote and where the requisite social services are lacking.

Project designers should also explore alternative and innovative approaches to project management. For example, implementation could be undertaken through established community-based organisations, civil society, the private sector, or through other competent institutions or bodies which are not under the command of government structures. Such arrangements would also shield the project management units from political and bureaucratic pressures of one type or another. Additionally, it is the responsibility of the project management team to foster a spirit of consultation and dialogue among the various project partners in the best interest of the project. In this regard, project managers and other concerned staff should be provided on-the-job training at entry. They should also be required to frequently visit the project area to remain constantly informed about field-level issues and requirements. To this end, adequate provision must be made in project costs to cover training and travel-related expenses. The involvement of reliable and qualified NGOs in selected aspects of project management should be encouraged.

To enhance chances of project sustainability, a minimum project management facility should be maintained after project closure for post-project activities. A provision for this should be made in the project design.

Role of the co-operating institution

UNOPS as the co-operating institution for the project was responsible for supervision and loan administration. With regard to the latter, UNOPS ensured that the borrower complied with the covenants of the loan agreement, with the exception of the non-compliance related to the systematic preparation and submission of Audit Reports. Internal audits were conducted by the Orissa Tribal Welfare Department, but these did not measure up to the required standard. No external audit was conducted, as required by the loan agreement. In terms of supervision missions (SMs), these were conducted in a timely manner and UNOPS submitted supervision reports to IFAD promptly according to agreed time-frames. In fact, UNOPS mounted two SMs per year throughout project implementation, which were also supplemented by an indepth Mid-term Review (MTR) undertaken in 1993. SMs reviewed all aspects of the project, ranging from technical and institutional to financial aspects. Finally, the supervision process in the OTDP was efficient in identifying problems and issues.

However, the lesson learned from the supervision process of the OTDP is that in order to have a significant impact on project implementation and results, the co-operating institution needs to perceive its mandate beyond one in which it considers the supervision dimension from merely a mechanical point of view, to one in which it takes a pro-active role in support of project implementation. Supervision should not be delivered or received as an inspection function, but internalised as a project management tool available for improving the project’s overall progress. OTDP further illustrates that project supervision should increasingly not just focus on problem-identifying, but become a problem-solving exercise, where problems and solutions are identified in a participatory process involving the various project partners. In this regard, experience sharing with project execution personnel and local experts as well as training through the organisation of workshop/seminars during or at the end of SMs with the participation of IFAD and other stakeholders proved to be useful.

For the supervision function to be more complete and efficient, it is proposed that co-operating institutions must also:

  1. Follow-up on recommendations: lay equal, if not more, emphasis in ensuring the implementation of recommendations made by the SMs. For example, the OTDP supervision reports highlighted the effects on implementation as a result of the withdrawal of the NGO (Agragamee) responsible for the Human Resources Development component. However, follow-up efforts on this issue (which was repeatedly reported in various SM reports) by IFAD and UNOPS in terms of identifying an appropriate alternative NGO was limited, which ultimately was a major factor adversely influencing the outcome of the project; and

  2. Composition: in multi-dimensional projects, like the OTDP, it is important to include specialists on SMs with varying expertise related to the project, as and when appropriate. For instance, with the exception of the MTR, and one other mission, OTDP supervision missions were composed of a financial analyst and an IFAD/UNOPS officer. The project would have benefited from the occasional participation in SMs of experts in agronomy, land rights, M&E, infrastructure engineering. Finally, co-operating institutions should take advantage in banking of local experts, not only to save costs but to ensure adequate input of local experience. This will facilitate the understanding of the local context and improve communication with project beneficiaries and local officers.

Role of NGOs

There was one NGO (namely, Agragamee) initially involved in OTDP. It was responsible for the execution of the Human Resources Development (HRD) activities, a very critical component of the project, which included training and education of the targeted population in areas of prime concern related to the project. However, soon after the project become effective a power-struggle developed between the NGO and the project management team caused mainly due to differences of opinion on how project activities ought to be implemented. The NGO believed the peoples’ voices were not given due emphasis in the prioritisation of projects’ activities and implementation, whereas project management saw the NGO as misleading the target group by sensitising them in a (political) manner inappropriate for their participation in the project. This created an atmosphere of tensions and mistrust, leading after a few years of implementation, to the NGO’s withdrawal from the project. Following this, a replacement NGO to implement the HRD component was not identified, and project management themselves conducted the earmarked activities, for which they were not well equipped. The evaluation mission believes that, the non-association for the full duration of the project, of an NGO with appropriate experience and capabilities to undertake HRD activities contributed to the shortcomings of the OTDP.

It may be noted that the NGO (Agragamee) involved in the project had a missionary zeal, a proven track record and experience of working closely with the target group, whose confidence the NGO was widely believed to enjoy. Another important point to note about the NGO is that, in addition to their attention to grassroots issues and concerns, their power base was also considerable amongst the tribal people. The latter factor appears to have led the NGO overtime to becoming somewhat unfocused in their thoughts, actions and operations.

While project designers do try to select the best NGOs in the project area, this selection must be made with utmost care, taking into account the NGOs’ reputation and capability, but also their relationship with all the stakeholders. Furthermore, it is imperative to clearly define in advance the objectives, role and responsibility of the NGO and each partner in the process. To this end, it may even be advisable to identify during project design the NGO to involve, and to make them participate in the design process. In this way, it will be relatively easier to have a common understanding right from the start about what is expected of each partner. Finally, at start-up, special team building sessions could be organised to inject a spirit of co-operation and effective participation. This would also be an opportunity for all concerned to appreciate their respective roles and boundaries, as well as to recognise those of the other stakeholders. The project management and the governments on their side should avoid adopting paternalistic and top-down attitudes, and consider the NGO as an equal partner establishing a relationship based on consultation and dialogue. However, adequate monitoring mechanisms must be introduced at the project management level to ensure that the NGO involved is discharging its duties and role in a manner in which the overall objectives of the project under consideration will be satisfied.

Sustainability

Various activities were undertaken during the implementation of the OTDP resulting in the formation of economic infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, cross drainage works, community centres, water harvesting structures and small irrigation systems, as well as community plantations and the development of nurseries.

However, already at the time of the completion evaluation mission, the latter noted deterioration in the infrastructure work undertaken during the project period. Further, the future of the input supply activity is also under strain. In this respect, during implementation seeds of improved variety, agricultural implements and other inputs were provided free or at a highly subsidised cost. These are no longer available to the tribal people, and no mechanism was instituted to ensure the timely and regular supply of inputs once the project ended. The same applies to the soil conservation and agro-forestry sub-components, as the tribals were provided through the OTDP planting material and other equipment for these activities, which are no longer available. Finally, an important element having an impact on project sustainability is the issue of wage employment generated through the project during implementation, which ceased immediately after project closure.

In development programmes such as the OTDP, where there are a number of inter-linked activities such as infrastructure development, agriculture and natural resource management and human resources development, the crucial role of the beneficiaries, community-based organisations and counterparts cannot be over-stressed in ensuring the sustainability of the investments made. A lesson emerging from the OTDP is that without the adequate participation in the design, decision-making and implementation of the beneficiaries and their community organisations, the post-project sustainability can be of major concern. The degree of participation at all stages in the project was limited – for instance, tribal people were minimally involved in project design and were seldom involved in developing the annual work programme and budget. The project lacked consultation with the targeted population, thus creating an atmosphere of mistrust and discontent. Together with the issue of participation during design and implementation, OTDP also revealed the centrality of education, training and empowerment of beneficiaries and their organisations in meeting the objective of sustainability. This process leads to the much-needed sense of responsibility and ownership of the beneficiaries and their organisations in the project, and consequently willingness on their part to maintain project activities.

Further, at the design stage mechanisms should be introduced to promote (towards the end of the implementation period) the transfer of project activities to the target group, to increase the chances of sustainability. The role of the government in this context is of importance, not only in terms of their commitment, but also by providing for appropriate institutional support and an enabling policy framework. The involvement of the same institutions should also be considered in future projects to the extent possible, as this would also provide an opportunity for continuation of activities.

Equally important is the issue of financial sustainability. Governments need to allocate funds to sustain selected project activities after the closing date, and to this end they should introduce a budget line in their core programme budget for the purpose. However, to minimise reliance on counterpart funds for post-project activities, projects should be designed as far as possible in a way to ensure that most of the project follow-up activities would be undertaken without continued allocation of public resources to any significant extent.

Annex I

Process leading to the finalisation of the lessons learned

The following were the major steps involved in arriving at an understanding on the seven lessons learned from the completion evaluation exercise of the OTDP.

  1. The first draft evaluation report was shared with IFAD’s Asia & Pacific Regional Division (PI) on 24 June 1999, and ten proposed lessons learned were provided to PI on 28 June 1999.

  2. Based on various discussions in-house, the report and the lessons learned were revised and shared once again with PI on 13 August, which agreed for the Office of Evaluation and Studies (OE) to discuss the report and lessons learned with the wider project partnership.

  3. The draft report and lessons learned were subsequently sent to other stakeholders (Government of India, Government of Orissa, WFP, NGO and UNOPS) on 26 August 1999.

  4. A brainstorming session was organised with various partners at the WFP premises in New Delhi on 13 September 1999 to discuss the draft report and proposed lessons learned. A consensus was reached on the most important learning elements emerging from the evaluation.

  5. Additional written comments were received on 21 and 27 September from the Government of Orissa on the lessons learned and the report, which were used again to revise the documents.

  6. The revised set of lessons learned were sent to PI on 12 October, and shared with OE evaluators for their comments and suggestions on 13 October.

  7. The lessons learned were further discussed in detail with the Regional Division and others during the first Project Development Team (PDT) meeting on the design of the Second Orissa Tribal Development project at IFAD on 8 November. The PDT acknowledged "that the OE Orissa lessons also cater for more explicit and specific operational learning needs".

  8. The final version of lessons learned were sent to the core partners on 18 November by email. Written statements were received (on 19 November and 22 November) from the core partners on a final understanding of the contents and nature of the lessons learned, and their commitment to utilise systematically the learning generated through the evaluation exercise when developing future interventions, policies and strategies aimed at tribal peoples development.

Understanding between the partners in the completion evaluation process, namely the State Government of Orissa (represented by the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe Development Department), the World Food Programme (as the Co-financier of the project) and IFAD (Asia & Pacific Division and the Office of Evaluation & Studies).


In particular the partners have committed themselves to adopt and use these lessons in the design and implementation of future projects and programmes aiming at uplifting the overall living conditions of tribal people, as well as in improving existing and developing new policy approaches that would enhance development interventions targeted at tribal populations.