Local Initiatives Support Project

Lesotho is a small, mountainous country which is entirely surrounded by the Republic of South Africa (RSA). The economy is largely open to and dependent on that of South Africa, which provides virtually all of Lesotho's imports and which purchases 80% of its exports. In recent years, remittances from miners in RSA have provided about half of the national income. The project site Quthing District has an area of about 182 000 ha, with a population estimated to be 90 000 people, of which 90% are rural. Cropland in Quthing is limited. Rainfed production of the traditional food grains (maize, sorghum, wheat) accounts for virtually all the field crops. Livestock production in rangeland is more important in Quthing than it is nationally. Herd numbers are excessive, and the pressure of over-grazing is one of the main causes of the soil erosion.

Project design and objectives

Target group

Quthing is a disadvantaged area. The average household income was 27% below the national in 1987. The project would attempt to reach a target group of about 36 000 people (7 550 households) or about 45% of the rural population. The target group was defined in the SAR as consisting of: small farmers, de jure female headed households, landless, often without wage employment, labour-deficit landed households and unemployed youth, who lack the skills required to make them more productive.

Objectives and components

Objectives. The primary objective of LISP was to raise rural incomes by increasing and diversifying agricultural production and by initiating a range of income-generating activities, both on and off farm. To achieve these objectives a participatory approach would be used. This would entail developing grass roots, service-orientated groups at the local level and developing linkages between the rural population and national organization, thereby reducing to a minimum future needs for government support.

Components: (a) Improvement of Crop Productivity, to be accomplished through a low-input crop package; an on-farm adaptive research programme; a soil conservation sub-component; and the expansion of irrigation through small, low-cost schemes; (b) Income Generating Rural Enterprises (IGRES), to include both farm and non-farm activities and (c) Community Support Activities consisted of the provision of village water supply (VWS) and establishing or rehabilitating Community Gardens.

Expected effects and assumptions

Expected Benefits. The principal direct benefit from the project would be an increase in production. The total annual incremental production will reach 6 900 mt of sorghum, 1 500 mt of maize, 400 mt of vegetables and 160 mt of folder. At full development about 4 550 households would earn significantly higher incomes under the rainfed crop production, farm and non-farm enterprise, irrigation and community gardens components. Additional benefits would come from the installation of VWS in 63 villages in the project area which would benefit approximately 3 000 households. In addition to the quantified benefits, the project would attempt to improve the implementation capacity of government institutions. The project would also establish a clear linkage between research, extension and beneficiaries, and initiate the adaptive research necessary to intensify and diversify agricultural production. Through its small soil conservation component, the project would start community-initiated and implemented conservation activities on a mini-catchment basis.

Assumptions. Three main assumption were at the base of the expected benefits. First, yields of traditional crops are assumed to double by project maturity of about 13 years. This is clearly linked to the assumption that farmers will readily adopt the low-input package advocated by the project as opposed to low adoption of high input packages. Second, the incremental output will fetch remunerative prices in the local markets. Third, the involvement of beneficiaries would develop the interest in community based schemes such as soil conservation, small-scale irrigation and water supply schemes. Yet, for the success of such schemes the individual and the community stakes should be tangible.


The mid-term evaluation mission visited the field for about eleven days. After meetings with the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) and other government agencies, the Mission met with project staff, visited affiliated agencies, and made numerous field visits to observe project activities and interview project beneficiaries. In addition to supervision mission reports, a draft Baseline Survey (January 1991) and numerous consultancies reports on irrigation, credit, marketing, improved crop technologies and women in development were consulted by the Mission.

Implementation context

The project is located in an inaccessible, drought-striken, poor province in the hinterland of a land locked country. It has an economy which is dominated by the Republic of South africa in two respects, a market for its labour and hence significantly dependent on remittances and a major source of Government revenue from the South African Custom Union (SACU). At the local community level there are two important factors affecting implementation: (a) the majority of households are headed by females, but their decision-making capacity is seriously constrained by the traditions and (b) communities are conservative hence new ideas are accepted gradually and only after they are thoroughly demonstrated. The project would, however, involve credible non-governmental organizations (NGOs) with wide experience in the area and hence would help dissipate such resistances.

Project achievements

Project Management. Under the former Project Manager (preceeding MTE), there was an established practice of having regular staff meetings and quarterly exchange visits among the field staff in the different areas covered by the project which helped in identifying and solving problems. It appears that these meetings have either been discontinued, or that they are not being held as frequently at the time of the MTE. The PCC which initially used to meet regularly has served mainly to review project progress but has not played an active role in guiding project management, setting deadlines, or in coordinating actions among the various components/agencies of the project. Expenditure on project activities has been far slower than planned. The actual total disbursement was only 55.6% compared to 85% as anticipated.

Construction of Civil Works. All civil works provided for in the SAR were completed on time. However, the MTE noted that the headquarters facility is not large enough to permit the staff to carry out their work properly.

Adoption of Technology and Packages. A study of the recommended package found only limited adoption. It indicates that farmers consider the package to be both capital and labour-intensive. The labour and output price levels are the main constraints to a widespread adoption of the proposed technologies. It is not surprising that the crop outcome of the last three years preceeding evaluation was poor. The package of technologies recommended by the project has not been appraised against the agro-ecological conditions in the project area. Under the circumstances, the project's technology for improving rainfed crop production will attain only very limited adoption and limited impact in the longer run.

Soil Conservation. At MTE soil conservation measures have not been implemented to any significant extent. Farmers were also not interested in soil conservation and refrained from implementing even very simple practices. This attitude was reinforced by the disinterest of the Subject matter specialist (SMS).

Small-scale Irrigation. Initial delays were experienced due to difficulties in locating sufficient number of sites appropriate for small-scale gravity irrigation proposed by SAR and disagreement among farmers about operations modalities. After a survey of the project area in 1990, a strong interest among individual farmers in simple low-cost gravity-fed sprinkler schemes, based on water flow from springs was identified. Up to MTE, requests from 118 farmers have been registered by the project; 85 small projects have been designed for which loans have been requested and approved by the project; and 22 schemes are already operational and cropped. The systems have simple and efficient design, are relatively cheap to install and easily managed by the individual farmers.

Credit. When the project was appraised, Lesotho Agricultural Development Bank (LADB) and Besotho Enterprises Development Cooperation (BEDCO) did not have offices or branches in the project area. Therefore, the responsibility for identifying credit beneficiaries was totally entrusted to LISP, and LADB and BEDCO were to be used as credit pipelines rather than real banks. However, no technical or financial assessment was made of LADB to identify its weaknesses and deficiencies since it was already experiencing serious structural problems. No loans were approved before 1989. By March 1991 LADB reported the disbursement of 49 loans, mainly to groups, totalling M 364 000, compared to the originally planned 193 loans totalling M 539 000 for this time period. Repayments were reported at 74%, with farm loan repayments at 87% and those for off-farm loans at 64%. As of September 1992, there had been total disbursement of 109 loans amounting to M 425 138. Whereas the overall recovery rate had declined to 56%, the on-farm loans actually improved slightly, while the recovery rate on off-farm loans had declined sharply from 64% to 52%. These recovery rates are not satisfactory, and the credit programme will not be sustainable if they continue.

Community Support Activities (e.g. Village Water Supply). This component, under the guidance of Plenty Canada has succeeded in establishing 31 water supply systems serving a total of 8 657 beneficiaries. This is 72% of the 12 000 target which was redefined at the time of the MTR. Given the component's current rate of progress, it appears that the final target may well be reached by 1994. Success was attributed to: (a) an accurate assessment of the community's felt needs; (b) a sense of membership developed through the promotion of village institutions and establishment of village development committees, (about 36 in 60 villages); (c) the continued commitment of a competent NGO (Plenty Canada) and its staff; and (d) concentration on a programme that is clear and not too broadly defined.

Income Generating Rural Enterprises (IGRES). By September 1992, the total number of IGRES groups was 45, and the number of beneficiaries went up to 396. There was substantial attrition in the number of non-farm enterprises during PY5 due to the severe drought of 1991/92. While there seems to be ample rationale for establishing IGREs, there is a question of whether economically and managerially viable entities can be established. Furthermore, LISP main staff are agricultural SMS and extension workers. The group promoters (GP) are trained in home economics and rural development and cannot be expected to provide for the diverse technical needs of the non-farm IGRE component envisaged in the SAR.

Participation and Group Formation. While the SAR stipulated that beneficiaries be given representation on the PCC, this was not done until June 1991. The Plenty Canada project component has never been represented on the PCC.

As per the design, the Group Promotion unit, headed by a Group Promoter (GP), has been central to the operation of the PMU. However, no clear framework for the project's group orientation was provided. There was no discussion of when group promotion could be expected to work as a means of project organization and when it would be more effective to deal with beneficiaries on an individual basis. The group organization process took longer than expected partly because of widespread reluctance of participants to join groups. One situation in which the project had a headstart in group formation was in the VWS component, which was the area selected for Plenty Canada to implement. No groups were actually formed until the second year of the project. By September 1992, LISP reported that a total of only 74 groups had been organized and that it was working with 700 beneficiaries. Beneficiary evaluation workshops organized by the project in 1989 and 1990 to stimulate participation have produced many good results. Participants voiced problems with respect to communication with extension agents and marketing problems, and suggested that LISP should work more closely with Village Chiefs. Criticism was directed to the "low attention beneficiaries received after credit has been issued and to the lack of communication between LADB, LISP and borrowers".

Monitoring and Evaluation. M&E performance was very uneven during the early years of the project. The first Monitoring and Evaluation Officer (MEO) was not assigned until November 1988, and his successor began working on the project in January 1992. While he appears to be highly motivated, he has no formal training and only limited experience in M&E. The draft Baseline Survey was not completed until February 1991, and a slightly revised version was submitted a year later. This survey proved to be poorly suited to the purposes of LISP. It concentrates on farming households although the LISP target groups depend primarily on other activities. The unit has conducted special studies of technology adoption and of the extent to which project activities are reaching the target group. However, at MTE, no clear plan has been established for measuring project impacts. The supplementary baseline survey which was being conducted at MTE might provide some valuable information on impacts if it is modified.

Effects assessment and sustainability

Impacts of the project were found difficult to determine at MTE, particularly due to the deficiencies of the original baseline survey and the scarcity of government statistical series that would permit measurement. However, the Mission field observations indicate that with the exception of the VWS component, the project had limited impacts on the beneficiaries.

Beneficiaries. The definition of the target group in the SAR is not very precise for reaching the poorest of the poor. Nevertheless, the general survey of beneficiaries conducted in 1990 concluded that 80% of project beneficiaries fell within the target group. The Mission could not estimate the project effects on the beneficiaries income, because of lack of comparative data.

Training has been one of the most active project support activities. This has included extensive beneficiary as well as staff training. While over 2 700 days of training have been conducted for beneficiaries so far, there is no way to determine just how well this has met trainee or staff needs, and there is no system in place for follow-up to see whether it has been effective or to measure impacts.

The Village Water Supply Component is well on the way towards reaching the revised target of 12 000 beneficiaries. Beneficiaries in one village estimated that having a water system generates about two hours per day in time savings per family. In some villages it has already been reported that typhoid has ceased to occur since their VWS was completed.

Nutrition and Food self-sufficiency. The project contribution would come from the more recently designed small-scale irrigation from springs. Such assured source of irrigation in drought-striken areas would enhance food security. Perennial irrigation increases vegetable production and diversifies household food and hence improves nutrition. In the small enterprise component, funding has been extended to poultry production with expected positive impacts on household nutrition and income.

Women. The Mission observed high levels of female involvement in most components of the project. Some 90% of the beneficiaries of the Fund Raising Fund (FRF, a small credit programme to cater for poorer people who could not qualify for bank credit) are women, and the CG component also has a very high female involvement. In contrast, the study of adoption of the low input crop technology packages showed that this package was not very suitable for the poor or for women.

Environmental Effects. The soil erosion component of the project has not been implemented. In fact, due to lack of soil conservation activities the situation in some fields has deteriorated. Fortunately, the community gardens and the irrigated crop and village water supply component had a positive impact on the environment. The excess water from the VWS is used for irrigation rather than allowed to flow down the stream causing soil erosion. The capping of the sources of the springs prevents the development of downhill gullies and thus helps reduce soil erosion.

Sustainability. Overall the sustainability of the project depends on the extent to which LISP is able to strengthen the capabilities of its beneficiaries in the area of decision making and to improve their ability to initiate action, and enhance self-reliance. The fact that a high percentage of beneficiaries participate in constructing the VWS ensures that the sense of community "ownership" and pride in the systems is high. Plenty Canada's procedure is to ensure that a fund is set aside for maintenance when the system is constructed, and community members are trained in maintenance procedures. Due to these measures, the VWS component is expected to be quite sustainable.

The small-scale gravity-fed irrigation systems are relatively simple, and after the initial construction phase the individual irrigator is normally able to do his own repairs. The fact that most of the systems are individually owned and operated means that group organizational problems are eliminated in most cases. However, problems with their sustainability are anticipated in case of market failures either for products and inputs (e.g. spare parts) or both. Sustainability would also by jeopardised if conflicts over water use arise with expansion of this activity.

Aside from irrigation, most of LISP's agricultural components have very doubtful sustainability. The soil conservation component has not even started mostly due to lack of interest on the part of beneficiaries. Similarly, the so-called Low Input Farm Technology package for rainfed agriculture is in trouble due to the fact that it is not viewed by poor farmers as being "low input" and because the package is of doubtful viability in Quthing's uncertain agro-climate. If the adaptive research component can be strengthened as recommended, the sustainability of the technology for rainfed agriculture can be improved.

Participation. The project has not succeeded in initiating a beneficiary empowerment process. Comments by beneficiaries at evaluation workshops held to date have sometimes been critical of staff attitudes and accessibility. The results experienced by the project in the implementation of project components are an indication that these activities did not correspond to a felt need of the communities, were designed from the top, and that the procedure followed in their implementation was different from that of Plenty Canada and its affiliates. It is clear that the project and Plenty Canada have followed different approaches to group formation and participation.

Main issues and recommendations

To improve project design and implementation.

a) Reactivate the PCC and strengthen through expansion of membership to include the representatives of project beneficiaries and the participating NGO.

b) The procedure for year to year budgeting of project funds is poorly organized. Managers of the various project units do not have complete access to information on how much their units will have to spend each year. Complete annual budget information be made available to all project leaders and SMS so that they can do a better job of planning and utilizing available resources.

c) Resume the practice of holding beneficiary evaluation workshops at regular intervals.

d) Identify specific training needs better and reorient training programme accordingly.

To promote appropriate technology packages.

a) Efforts to extend the low input crop package should be confined to those areas where it has the greatest possibility of success i.e. mainly the higher rainfall zones within the district, with low probability of crop failure.

b) Develop a stronger base of technical support for the small-scale vegetable and fruit production because of their potential profitability.

c) Review the entire research and extension programme in order to identify what portions of this programme can realistically be implemented during the project's remaining life.

d) The soil conservation programme has not been implemented, in part, because the project did not contemplate any remuneration of farmers for their participation in the programme; whereas programmes assisted by other donors do. For farmers to participate they should perceive benefits either in direct payment or in the satisfaction of an essential community felt need, such as village woodlots.

To develop surface irrigation.

a) Rely more on simple micro projects design of gravity irrigation from running water springs.

b) Revise the project's irrigation targets downward, to be commensurate with the programme that is in operation.

c) Investigate the water rights and associated customary law before any larger irrigation effort is funded or promoted in Lesotho.

To support beneficiaries participation.

a) Ensure the representation of beneficiaries, their organizations, the NGO in all levels of decision making and enhance the decision-making capacity of beneficiaries through involvement, and training.

b) Examine the projects' group promotion procedures applied by the participating NGO in the VWS component, with the objective of improving the GP process.

c) Motivate the project staff responsible for group formation and train them adequately.

To streamline credit operations.

a) The project and LADB should reconsider their relative roles and responsibilities; and should re-negotiate a new mechanism for the identification of the beneficiaries, the appraisal and the approval of the loans.

b) Undertake measures to improve the recovery rates and enhance the viability of the credit institution.

c) Review policy related to the extension of credit for starting up micro-enterprises in marginal, high risk areas and identify the necessary conditions that must be satisfied before credit is delivered for that purpose.

Lessons learned

Technically complex rural development projects require technical assistance support.

The developmental components of LISP involve such a wide range of technical areas that it would have been virtually impossible to provide adequate technical support for each of them from the project staff while support from other agencies staff has been also inadequate. Management has repeatedly failed to obtain support in the areas of rainfed crop production, farm demonstrations, adaptive research, and irrigation farming. Numerous liaisons with technical departments produced no lasting relationship. Surprisingly, there was very little provision in the SAR for outside Technical Assistance (TA). Nevertheless, given the limited amount of technical support that was available to the project locally, there has been far greater reliance on TA than originally planned.

Community organization and group formation, a specialized job which requires expertise, motivation, dedication and time.

a) Project activities for which group formation and promotion of beneficiaries participation were under a specialized, experienced NGO, positive results were obtained (e.g. VWS). In contrast project activities of this nature entrusted to non-trained extension personnel or other hastely assembled units did not perform well.

b) Participatory approaches need longer periods for implementation, particularly in the design and execution of micro enterprises/projects. This is an added reason to increase the period for project implementation.

Technology adoption by risk-averse, smallfarmers is subject to certain pre-requisites.

Technology adoption by risk-averse, smallfarmers is constrained by a multiplicity of factors. It has not been enough to prescribe a low-input package. How much is low? To which crop or farming system? And to whom? In essence specificity has to be fine-tuned. Land tenure, hired and household labour, credit availability and access, prices and factor and product markets as well as social acceptability are factors to be carefully studied and integrated into the package.



01 December 1993