Poverty Reduction Project in Aftout South and Karakoro - Interim Evaluation

Introduction

Objectives and evaluation process. The interim evaluation of the Poverty Reduction Project in Aftout South and Karakoro (PASK) is intended, first, to fulfill the obligation of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) to report to its members and partners on the results and impact achieved by the operations it finances; and second, to enable partners to draw lessons from this project to inform the preparation and implementation of other development interventions in the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. The evaluation encompasses five dimensions: performance by the project (relevance, effectiveness and efficiency); project impact on rural poverty; sustainability of results; innovations and their adoption by institutions for scaling-up purposes; and performance by IFAD and partners. Following a preparatory mission in August 2008, the main mission took place from 7 October to 3 November 2008. Three sources of information were employed: a review of available documentation, interviews with project participants and partners, and field observations in villages (in 7 of the 21 communes covered by the project). A wrap-up meeting was held at the mission's end, and a second meeting was organized in December 2008 at the Ministry of Urban and Land Use Planning (MHUAT) with all the partners to discuss the aide-mémoire resulting from the mission.

Country context. Mauritania covers a surface area of more than 1 million square kilometres, 75 per cent of which is arid or semi-arid land. It is divided into four distinct ecological areas: the Saharan, Sahelian, Senegal River valley and coastal areas. The population is very small compared to the country's size: although demographic growth doubled between 1974 and 2004, the total population is just 3 million, half of whom live in rural areas. With a gross national product per capita of US$952 in 2007, Mauritania is classified as a low-income country. Despite the progress made in recent years, human development levels remain low. According to the Human Development Report published by the United Nations Development Programme in 2009, Mauritania's human development index was 0.520, ranking it 154th of 177 countries.

IFAD's strategy and intervention in Mauritania. Since 1980, IFAD has financed 12 projects in Mauritania totaling US$268 million, close to 40 per cent of them funded in the form of IFAD loans (US$90 million). IFAD's actions focus on increasing food production and improving food self-sufficiency. The country strategic opportunities programme (COSOP) 2000-2004 was built upon four major thrusts: (i) transferring responsibilities to rural people, in particular those included in IFAD's target group; (ii) putting in place effective mechanisms to transfer resources to rural people to fund local development programmes that address their priorities; (iii) improving access to secure land tenure, capital and markets for rural poor people; and (iv) developing grass-roots organizations to build capacity for lobbying and for programme design and implementation. The new COSOP 2007-2012, approved in 2007, sets three strategic objectives: (i) strengthen the institutions of the rural poor using community-driven development approaches; (ii) promote sustainable rural financial services; and (iii) achieve sustainable agricultural development and food security.

The Poverty Reduction Project in Aftout South and Karakoro was designed for a seven-year period (2003-2009) and financed by an IFAD loan, a government contribution, and cofinancing in the form of a loan from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). A preliminary proposal was put forward by the Government in September 2000. Project identification, formulation and appraisal by IFAD followed. The project was approved by IFAD's Executive Board in September 2001. At the outset, the project was placed under the oversight of the Human Rights, Poverty Reduction and Mainstreaming Commission, then, as of May 2007 – following the presidential election – under the Ministry for Decentralization and Land Use Planning and, in September 2008, in the MHUAT. These changes came about following the shuffling of responsibilities and restructuring of government institutions. The cooperating institution responsible for supervising the project on behalf of IFAD and the OPEC is the United Nations Office of Project Services (UNOPS). PASK covers an area of 25,600 square kilometres, encompassing 653 villages in 21 communes located in three contiguous districts: M'bout, in the Gorgol region (9 communes and 330 villages), Ould Yengé in the Guidimaka region (7 communes, 170 villages) and Kankossa in the Assaba region (5 communes, 153 villages). The beneficiaries account for most of the rural people living within the project area.

Objectives and components. PASK aims to contribute, within its area of intervention, to achieving the overall objectives of the Strategic Framework for Combating Poverty (CSLP), which are as follows: (i) halving rural poverty; (ii) providing universal access to basic social services; and (iii) supporting institutional development at the local level. PASK has four components: building local organizational and management capacity roughly (11.6 per cent of total cost); providing access and basic infrastructure (59.4 per cent); improving and diversifying incomes (11.1 per cent); and project coordination, management, and monitoring and evaluation (M&E) (17.6 per cent).

Performance

The results obtained on building local capacity relate mainly to: (i) achieving participatory local planning, centred around a mixed communal/village approach, which led to the preparation of participatory diagnostics, communal development plans (PDCs) and priority action plans (PAPs); the establishment and training of communal consultative committees (CCCs) and the training and equipment of 21 communal development agents; (ii) a major information, education and communication programme (IEC) covering health care, schooling for girls, family and women's rights, and citizenship, which reached more than 4,000 people after setting up more than 200 IEC poles; (iii) a continuing literacy programme that trained 287 literacy agents and reached 12,300 people; and (iv) training events for 292 women's cooperatives and 112 economic infrastructure management committees.

Most of the PAPs reflected strong demand for improving access in the region and building infrastructure. Results included: (i) preparation of a master plan for improving regional access; (ii) rehabilitation of critical points identified in the master plan, i.e. eight works projects to clear and build the M'Bout-Soufa stretch of road (circa 83 kilometres); (iii) rehabilitation and installation of community infrastructure : construction of 36 wells and 2 new boreholes, rehabilitation of 25 existing boreholes and reinforcement of the M'Bout dike; and (iv) establishment of a socio-economic infrastructure programme financed under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative. This programme covers 12 municipalities, 6 multipurpose buildings, 14 health care centres, rehabilitation of 122 classrooms and construction of 102 new ones, construction of 152 latrines, 1 abattoir and 7 markets with multiple vendors' stalls.

Improving and diversifying incomes translated into: (i) support for women's market gardening cooperatives in the form of training for 460 new women, granting of limited quantities of inputs and agricultural implements – in the context of training and demonstration events held by specialized partner operators – and the supply of fencing to protect 42 hectares cultivated by the cooperatives; (ii) supply of fencing and barbed wire to protect flood-plain crops in dam basins and pastures against stray animals – some farmers were trained in integrated pest control, others in draft animal power; (iii) training of 55 veterinary assistants and equipping them with veterinary kits; and (iv) identification and support for 30 income-generating microprojects, benefiting mainly women and young people. An extensive training programme underpinned these activities, reaching 16,000 people under brushfire awareness campaigns, 12,000 women under firewood reduction awareness campaigns; 340 farmers in connection with integrated pest control; 252 women's market garden cooperatives (with 27,000 members) and 450 women outreach workers disseminating market gardening techniques and issues at village level.

Relevance. The PASK objectives and procedures, as defined in the project appraisal report, are in line with the development strategies adopted by the Government and IFAD at the time of project preparation. Subsequent revisions of the strategies of the Government (CSLP) and IFAD (COSOP) have further strengthened PASK's strategic mandate for poverty reduction. Unlike other projects, most of which are entirely community-or commune-based, PASK experimented with a participatory approach anchored at the community level in the form of participatory diagnostics and preparation of participatory community development plans, and at the communal level in the form of preparation of PDCs and PAPs. This mixed participatory approach was complemented by a social approach built around promoting consultation, community organization, capacity-building for individuals and organizations, and development of socio-economic services, and by a technical approach that called for improving physical capital and building competencies among stakeholders.

However, PASK presents design flaws that have limited the scope of its impact in certain respects: primarily imperfect advance knowledge of the assets and constraints of the area, and resource allocation that was not well adapted to either the geographic and socio-economic objectives selected or the specific constraints and challenges involved. Based on these considerations, project relevance is deemed moderately satisfactory.

Effectiveness. In terms of achieving specific objectives, project effectiveness levels are mixed:

Effectiveness was good on the objective of building local capacity for organization, management and promotion in the following areas: ownership by CCCs of PDCs and PAPs, the participatory planning process, consultation, partnerships and collective and individual capacity-building in local communities; setting up and training producer organizations; IEC actions on health care, nutrition and adult literacy; and involvement by village specialists trained as local service providers to benefit communities. In terms of weaknesses, however, the evaluation underscores the lack of proactiveness on the part of village development committees, associations and committees responsible for operating and maintaining socio-economic infrastructure (health care centres, water points, tracks, etc.).

Effectiveness was inadequate on establishing and consolidating building blocks for economic growth and improving access for rural communes. Although at the time of the evaluation the regional access programme had been achieved in part, the mission observed serious problems in the design and quality of some projects. In addition, the lack of competencies and professionalism on the part of specific enterprises and consulting firms hired, an economic juncture characterized by spiralling prices for building materials and the resulting problems for enterprises, the lack of involvement by regional public works departments, and the lack of monitoring and follow-up by the project team based in Nouakchott, undoubtedly exacerbated the situation. Project actions in the area of economic infrastructure were also modest: multi-stall markets were built but very little used owing to an impractical design, limited economic viability and poor building quality.

Effectiveness was considered good on the objective of improving living conditions through access to basic social infrastructure. This was apparent mainly in terms of infrastructure: a relatively large number of socio-economic education and health care establishments were built in response to strong local demand, in some cases exceeding the targets set by the project appraisal report. This good performance is attributable to the Government's firm determination to improve living conditions for people living in the project area and ability to mobilize funding in the context of the planned HIPC contribution. On the other hand, the socio-economic infrastructure programme had several weaknesses, such as: (i) the lack of involvement by and coordination with the technical services concerned, particularly in the case of water – which would have led to better targeting of studies on prospection and installation of potable water points and better links of project actions to the national strategy and programme to develop drinking water supply infrastructure in rural areas; (ii) inadequate training and monitoring of management committees for water points, associations of parents of students and health care centre management committees; and (iii) poor execution quality of work on specific buildings owing to problems with enterprises (delays, contract cancellations).

With respect to the objective of increasing and diversifying incomes for the most vulnerable groups, effectiveness was deemed unsatisfactory. The project carried out a number of activities to promote higher and more diversified incomes. However, these activities did not yield significant results either in the area as a whole or for the households concerned, mainly for the following reasons: (i) the activities were scattered and not part of a coherent and comprehensive programme of support for agriculture with solid links to sector policies underpinned by the technical services concerned; (ii) poor diversification and limited scope of activities undertaken at the village level meant that they were primarily demonstrative in nature; and (iii) poor farmer-herders living in recently established villages were not specifically targeted, although they were identified by the project appraisal report as one of the most vulnerable population segments warranting special attention. Support for income-generating activities saw a protracted delay when the underlying proximity financial services subcomponent was frozen. The first wave of income-generating activities funded by the project appears to have adopted an approach that was well adapted to the very challenging socio-economic context in the project area, although the rationale was social rather than economic in nature and benefits appear to have been quite modest.

In conclusion, taking into account the evaluation factors described above and considering the baseline situation in the project area, project effectiveness is rated moderately unsatisfactory overall.

Efficiency. This evaluation rates PASK's efficiency as moderately unsatisfactory for the following reasons: (i) project start-up delays (in particular, OPEC loan effectiveness), with a disbursement rate of about 77 per cent at the time of the evaluation; (ii) poor quality of road works despite considerable investment; and (iii) recurrent expenses mainly due to the de facto presence of the project team at Nouakchott (rather than in the project area). In economic terms, the project presents a low level of efficiency overall since the investments made did not generate a tangible increase in target population incomes, as mentioned in the section on effectiveness.

Rural poverty impact

Overall, PASK had a satisfactory impact on rural poverty, although it varied by area.

Household income and assets. Impact in this respect was rated moderately unsatisfactory. At this point, it is difficult to see an overall improvement of any scope that could be attributed directly to the project. Based on average observed yields for rainfed crops in Mauritania, the 25 per cent improvement cited should translate into additional income of Mauritanian Ouguiya (UM) 12,000 per hectare or UM 24,000 per household for an average surface area of 2 hectares/farmer for floodplain crops. Overall impact on the project area remains insufficient in that the 260 hectares of protected basins are expected to provide total additional income of UM 3,120,000. 1

which is very low, even compared to the cost of protection. It must be underscored however that the project had a considerable impact on temporary job creation on works projects for socio-economic infrastructure and projects to open up the project area, which were awarded to local enterprises and workers. According to the project monitoring and evaluation system, the payroll for implementing such infrastructure is approximately UM 240 million (US$971,670).

Farm production and food security. Impact in this area was unsatisfactory overall. The increase in production for market garden perimeters covered (42 hectares) is not easily quantifiable. However, it would appear that the support for women's cooperatives and technical training provided by specialized partner operators played a role in improving production. On average, each woman is benefiting from 12 to 35 kilos of vegetables over the agricultural year, which represents close to 25 per cent of average consumption for rural families in Mauritania. At the project level, the overall increase in farm production attributable to the project remains low: considering the area covered and the range of yields indicated, production did not exceed 80 tonnes. With respect to productivity, yields for gardens covered appear to have fallen significantly in year four. PASK training and provision of veterinary assistants favoured higher livestock productivity and food security. According to the M&E system, the veterinary assistants provided care for more than 43,000 head of livestock, 56 per cent cattle and 34 per cent sheep, thus contributing to an improvement in animal health and yields. With regard to food security, local observations show that market gardening activities led to a certain improvement in the quality of nutrition for the households concerned, mainly owing to the introduction of previously unknown crops such as lettuce and aubergine. Notwithstanding the foregoing, the results of the Results and Impact Management System (RIMS) survey conducted in the project area in 2006 confirmed that PASK had little impact on food security overall.

Capital and empowerment. Results in this area are highly satisfactory. Essentially, the project's impact consists of the social transformation of the environment at both a collective and an individual level. The project promoted more open attitudes and greater social integration of the various communities with their communes; strengthened community solidarity through support for grass-roots organizations and a more robust consultative process thanks to support provided to CCCs. The promotion of 112 management committees for socio-economic infrastructure is another important project achievement in terms of strengthening social capital. This improvement appears to be the result of the combined effects of building schools and IEC activities, which placed major emphasis on schooling for girls. This finding is confirmed by the effective presence of women in local decision-making bodies. Women account for more than 30 per cent of CCC members (including four chairpersons) and 45 per cent of infrastructure management committee members. In addition, women were highly involved in project implementation, accounting for 50 per cent of the outreach workers for multipurpose partner operators, 80 per cent of literacy workers and 98 of IEC pole personnel. Nevertheless, the project's social impact remains unsatisfactory owing to the failure to promote local consultative and planning structures for community development in support of CCCs set up in the context of institutional support for communes, on one hand, and the weakness of infrastructure management committees and lack of promotion and support for producer organizations outside of market gardening cooperatives, on the other.

Natural resources and the environment. PASK impact on natural resources and the environment was quite limited overall. Regrettably, the project was unable to implement the only activities that could have improved the environment, such as watershed development and reforestation through woody species development. Activities to raise awareness among villagers of the dangers of brushfire and the introduction of an alternative source of energy, i.e. bottled gas, seems to have had some positive effects. The specific contribution of PASK, however, cannot be accurately determined given the simultaneous interventions of a large number of players in the same area (two German Technical Cooperation Agency – GTZ – projects, local authorities, NGOs, etc.).

Institutions and policies. PASK support for communes effectively contributed to building the capacity of municipalities through the emergence of more dynamic communal institutions compared to other communes not having benefited from the project. PASK thus favoured the emergence of a citizenship culture. In addition, it created conditions for strengthening the national decentralization process through institutional support for communes, training for municipal elected officials, the establishment of CCCs and the recruitment of communal development agents. On the other hand, PASK implementation had no impact on building capacity among deconcentrated State departments, which remained on the margins of project activities. These relate mainly to farming, livestock, waterworks and public works. In short, the project impact was greatest in terms of human and social capital and community empowerment.

Sustainability and innovation

Sustainability. Since it would be premature to assess the sustainability of project achievement, given that the project had not yet been concluded at the time of writing this report, the evaluation has focused on seeking out and analysing favourable or unfavourable signs of sustainability. The new social dynamic oriented towards increased participation by rural communities, women and civil society in particular, is bound to continue and indeed has every chance of improving in the future. The achievements in terms of brushfire awareness and firewood reduction have some chance of lasting given the strong buy-in by the public authorities and local players. The proactive dynamics observed within communal structures (municipal councils and CCCs) and continuing capacity-building for them under the project are an important asset that could enhance the sustainability of project achievements. However, the project's impact on farm production and household incomes remains quite limited. In short, despite the existence of several positive factors, there are significant real risks to the sustainability of the project's primary results and impact unless appropriate measures are swiftly taken to attenuate them.

Innovation. PASK has had the merit of introducing two major innovations in the area: the first, an institutional innovation, has to do with employing a participatory approach that involves both community and communal levels; the second relates to promoting income-generating activities under the self-managed development fund concept, an initiative that is still incipient but has a good chance of expansion. In terms of scaling up, PASK implementation has opened the way for a large number of development projects financed by other donors in Aftout South and Karakoro (Equitable Regional Growth Development Project, Assaba Communes Support Project, GTZ projects, etc.), which is considered one of the country's poorest zones. PASK has therefore influenced decision-making by other donors and by the Government, as confirmed by governmental representatives during the evaluation.

Performance by partners

Government. Despite changes in several oversight agencies since project start-up, government support for the project has been constant. The ministries in charge of planning and budget have ensured good mobilization of HIPC funds for more than US$7 million, compared to US$6 million called for under the project appraisal report. In addition, the Government reacted quickly to the findings of the RIMS survey, setting up an emergency programme that was carried out in 2007. Nevertheless, it tolerated the de facto establishment of the project coordination and management unit in Nouakchott, that is a day's journey by road from the project area, despite the many recommendations made by UNOPS and IFAD in this regard, thus running counter to the loan agreement provisions and leading to poor effectiveness in monitoring activities. The Government and IFAD share responsibility for the low levels of relevance in project design and responsiveness up to the time of the mid-term review regarding delays in implementing planned activities. Regional and communal authorities have expressed strong and continuous interest in the project and have greatly facilitated and/or contributed to its implementation. The project team made commendable efforts towards good project implementation, despite the difficult context and weaknesses in some aspects of project design. The performance of the unit responsible for the income improvement and diversification component was constrained by instability within the team and vacancies in specific positions. The unit was not successful in carrying out the recommendations of the agricultural study and providing consistent content for the agricultural component. In short, in view of the foregoing, performance by the Government side as a whole was moderately unsatisfactory.

IFAD. IFAD's performance is deemed moderately satisfactory as a whole, particularly during the period leading up to the mid-term review. IFAD shares responsibility with the Government for the project design flaws. However, IFAD's performance has improved gradually since 2006, when a new portfolio manager was appointed and the mid-term review took place. UNOPS provided planning-based project supervision, often mobilizing the same teams, which translated into a gradual improvement in its knowledge of the project and, consequently, performance by the teams. The supervision missions generated a number of relevant suggestions and recommendations. OPEC made a significant contribution in the form of cofinancing for the regional access subcomponent and showed flexibility in agreeing to make the proposed changes to programme content in this regard, as well as specific amendments to the loan agreement and an extension at the behest of the Government, the project coordination and management unit and UNOPS. The multipurpose partner operators, which are responsible for conducting participatory planning and diagnostic processes and capacity-building for CCCs and grass-roots organizations, made quite a good effort despite the size of the area and severely limited access, and complied overall with their terms of reference. The specialized partner operators posted a mixed performance. Those responsible for implementing support for market gardening cooperatives performed relatively well and in compliance with their contracts with PASK.

Conclusions and recommendations

Overall assessment. This evaluation rates the project performance as moderately unsatisfactory overall. However, it is noted that the purpose of PASK, one of the first instruments for implementing the CSLP, was to improve conditions in Aftout South and Karakoro, an extensive and isolated area considered one of the country's poorest zones. The decision to finance PASK had an important effect on the other donors and the Government, leading to the development of other projects in this highly disadvantaged area. The continued allocation of consistent funding for the development of socio-economic infrastructure, particularly thanks to the Government's sound ability to mobilize significant funding (contribution under the HIPC Initiative), is also recognized. Weaknesses relate mainly to inadequate knowledge of the area's assets and constraints, inadequate allocation of resources (compared to the objectives set), poor performance by the project coordination and management unit owing to its inappropriate and unstable institutional anchoring, and very low levels of involvement by deconcentrated technical departments. The table below summarizes the scores assigned to the various evaluation criteria.

Summary of Ratings assigned to PASK and its Partners

Evaluation Criteria Ratings 2
Performance criteria  
Relevance 4
Effectiveness 3
Efficiency 3
Project performance 3
Rural poverty impact 4
Household income and assets 3
Agricultural productivity and food security 2
Social capital and empowerment 5
Natural resources and the environment 4
Institutions and policies 4
Other performance criteria  
Sustainability 3
Innovation 4
Overall project evaluation 3
Performance of partners  
Government 3
IFAD 4
UNOPS 4

Source: PASK Interim Evaluation.

Recommendations. Subject to the agreement of IFAD and the Government of Mauritania, and given the persistence of rural poverty in Aftout South and Karakoro and the commendable but incomplete efforts by PASK partners based on the mid-term review, this evaluation favours a second phase of the project. However, to ensure that such a second phase starts out on a sound foundation and achieves a significant impact on rural poverty within its intervention area, it is recommended that three conditions must be met:

Recommendation 1: Appropriate resources should be allocated for the design of a second project phase.

Recommendation 2: A better match is needed between objectives set and implementation modalities.

Recommendation 3: The project should be refocused on economic objectives – which are key to combating poverty – by sustainably optimizing the area's water and agro-pastoral potential and consolidating the experience in promoting income-generating activities launched during this first phase, while ensuring sound linkages with strategies for agricultural and livestock development and sustainable management of natural resources.


1/ Approximately US$15,000, at most.

2/ Ratings are assigned on a scale of 1 to 6 (6 = highly satisfactory; 5 = satisfactory; 4 = moderately satisfactory; 3 = moderately unsatisfactory; 2 = unsatisfactory; 1 = highly unsatisfactory)

 

 

Date

12 September 2011

Countries

Mauritania

Languages

English, French