Issue no. 13: September-October 2009

A joint issue on rural institutions with FIDAction, the IFAD newsletter for Western and Central Africa

Joint Message from the Directors

Institutions are at the base of any social organization. Without sound institutions, there can be no real representation of people. Understanding the institutional context is the first step towards sustainable development. This is particularly true for rural and agricultural development, where for too long development efforts have overlooked the wider context in which development is to take place. To this end, IFAD has adopted as a core objective to strengthen the voice and choices of poor rural people through local institutional development. Poor rural people cannot be empowered in a sustainable way if their institutions are not taken into account. To achieve this core objective, IFAD needs to strengthen the capacities of poor rural people and their organizations to influence institutions relevant to poverty reduction. This is especially true when it comes to pro-poor policy development at local and national levels. As a development institution, IFAD is also strengthening its own competencies in institutional analysis and dialogue.

Both the Eastern and Southern Africa Division and the Western and Central Africa Division have been working extensively on all those aspects. The latter has developed a methodology for institutional analysis to provide analytical tools for designing programmes and projects that take into account the local institutional context and enable capacity building. The methodology has already proven its value during IFAD implementation support missions and will be increasingly important in direct supervision, further enhancing the impact and sustainability of our activities. IFAD has also started developing a practitioners’ guide which will strengthen its own organizational competencies in institutional analysis during project design and implementation. The guide should be ready by August 2010.

Mohamed Béavogui and Ides de Willebois

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Rural institutions: the framework for development

 “Without institutions and an institutional framework, there can be no development,” said Mohamed Béavogui, director of the Western and Central Africa Division. It is an all-encompassing term, covering many different types of organizations, customs and practices. A common definition is to distinguish between organizations, which are pre-established structures with a pre-defined role and set of rules, and institutions, which cover anything from traditional structures to institutional practices and local customs. However, the two work together in a very intricate and dynamic relationship. Institutions set the parameters or the ground rules, while organizations comply with, enforce or seek to influence and change them.

Institutions are usually creatures of the rich and powerful groups in society. The institutions they create determine the rules for access to resources and opportunities, and such rules can either facilitate or hinder the inclusion of poor people, or restrict access to a privileged few, usually in urban areas. In many cases, people are poor due to a lack of access to resources, rather than a scarcity of resources. It has now become a priority to favour institutional environments that are all-inclusive and promote development for the people who need it the most. Putting in place and supporting institutions that work for all is the first step towards eradicating poverty.

American political economist, Elinor Ostrom, who was just awarded the Nobel prize for her work on economic governance, organizations and institutions, believes that institutions, particularly those governing access to resources, must have a number of specific characteristics to function well. They include: clearly defined boundaries and membership, rules that are adapted to and work in accordance with the local environment, collective choice and fair  participation of members, monitoring  gradual sanctions in case of breech of rules, conflict resolution mechanisms, and the right to legally exist and organize. Without those pre-conditions, an institution cannot secure fair access to resources and opportunities for all members.

Understanding the local context

Understanding the local context and customary practices is essential for development programmes. “Institutions are very context-specific. They depend on local politics, on the local environment, on the type of activity,” explained Tom Anyonge, senior technical adviser on rural institutions at IFAD. As a result, more time needs to be devoted to truly understanding the local context, and the interaction between the various institutions and players. “That’s not only at the national level, but also at the local level, as customs can vary from region to region,” Anyonge added. In the past, many projects and programmes discovered too late how the local environment and institutions worked, and failed to deliver sustainable results. This is particularly true for institutional practices and traditions which do not have written rules, but are based on people’s inherent knowledge and understanding of their community.

“We’ve had a number of examples where the international aid community was working on a project and didn’t realize at the time that a particular institution or custom existed. It was only years later that they understood how it worked,” explained Ides de Willebois, director of the Eastern and Southern Africa Division. “That of course affected the results of that specific project.” Equally, what brings results in a small area of a given country may not work in another area because of the local context. This is particularly relevant in Africa, where countries are so vast that regional and national differences are heightened. “That is why understanding the local context and working with local institutions is paramount,” said Anyonge.

Working with traditional institutions


Hauling water from a community managed well, Chad


In the Gambia, members of a women’s Kafos group make tie-dye fabric


Traditional institutions are particularly important in African countries, because they coexist with government institutions and are highly respected by rural people, who understand and know them better than they know national laws. Also, in isolated local areas, formal institutions are weakly represented, if at all. Hence, people rely on customary institutions for day-to-day life.

“They provide an institutional space for dialogue, understanding and seeing different points of view,” explained Anyonge. When traditional institutions are involved, the implementation of projects works better, but they need to be involved from the start. In Chad, the recently approved Pastoral Water and Resource Management Project in Sahelian Areas will support local institutions to build wells and water points along the routes that nomadic herders use. The institutions in question, known as mixed commissions, were implemented in the early 1990s to resolve conflicts between migrant pastoralists and sedentary farmers. They bring together in equal number representatives of farmers and nomads, under the direction of a highly respected Sultan, to discuss problems and find sustainable solutions. They agreed on a migration route and water points along that route that both communities need to respect (see story below). Swaziland provides another example of successful cooperation with traditional institutions. In the Lower Usuthu Smallholder Irrigation Project (LUSIP), local Chiefs were consulted on a programme of land resettlement (see story below).

However, traditional institutions can also hinder development, particularly for women. In Eritrea, for instance, women continue to be circumcised because of traditional practices. “There is a women’s association in Eritrea that is working on preventing circumcision of little girls,” explained Abla Benhammouche, country programme manager at IFAD. ”These women are working hard trying to convince mothers living in rural areas not to have their daughters circumcised, but too often they resist because of traditional beliefs.”

One type of women’s organization, the Kafos, has been particularly successful in the Gambia (see story below).  

Cross-cutting role of rural institutions


A farmers' organization group meet in Ghana


Development cannot be reduced to one single issue, but touches on many aspects of rural life, such as water, land, gender balance, market access, finance and HIV-AIDS, to name but a few. This means that rural institutions dedicated to specific issues quickly expand into other areas. They can also develop into more complex structures, in which case they need to be legally recognized to do so. “That’s one of the problems we see, especially for water associations,” said Rudolph Cleveringa, senior technical adviser for water management and rural development at IFAD. “We see a lot of cross-cutting issues in those institutions, but the current legal framework does not foresee this development. A vertical structure applies whereby water is just water, and the interaction with other fields is not legally recognized.” This is becoming a serious issue due to the importance of water and the risk of potential conflicts as a result of increasing water shortages and weather pattern changes. “We’ve had instances where water investments came to a standstill because the land issue was not resolved. By giving these institutions the space they need, we would avoid such problems,” added Cleveringa (see story below on water users associations).

On the other hand, farmers’ organizations, particularly in Western and Central Africa, have grown to represent the diverse interests of their members, including on the subject of water. In many countries they have become political partners, and their members’ voices are heard at government level. “This is also an important aspect of rural institutions: are they heard and are their interests reflected at higher levels?” asked Anyonge. “If the answer is positive, it means that the organization is empowered, which is one of our aims as an international donor.” In Western Africa, farmers’ organizations have become well organized and competent, and are accustomed to being involved in national and regional political debates (see interview below with ROPPA).

This is not the case in Eastern and Southern Africa, where farmers’ organizations started developing later and where they need support for capacity building. “They are only emerging, but we’re trying to learn from experiences elsewhere,” said de Willebois. In Kenya, for instance, the Kenyan Federation of Agricultural Producers has already grown into a wide network from grassroots to national level that provides a range of services to farmers. It is a partner in a number of IFAD projects (see Progress no 6 on Farmers’ Organizations, December 2007).

Going a step further, some grassroots community-based organizations can replace a failing institutional framework, as happened in Zimbabwe. “Those grassroots organizations became the channel through which resources came. Often they are not known in the capital, but they understand the culture and the language and can bridge the divide between outsiders and locals,” explained Esther Kasalu-Coffin, country programme manager at IFAD.

In other cases, various types of institutions can work together to maximize the synergies they have, or to improve their functions and activities. This is the case, for example, of the Community Centres for Innovation (CCI) set up under the Support Project for the Strategic Plan for the Transformation of Agriculture in Rwanda. CCIs are multi-purpose service centres that provide meeting space and host events for communities, cooperatives, committees and service providers, and promote more active participation of all stakeholders. They have been implemented in the Kirehe Community-based Watershed Management Project, where they work with the local cooperatives to provide agricultural services.

Representation and participation

Institutions are complex, especially when they have a multi-layered structure, but their basic role remains the same: to truly understand the needs of the people they represent and to promote participation of all members. “We have had examples in the past of cooperatives that were set up by the government, but were not really representative of their members,” explained Claus Reiner, country programme manager at IFAD. “They simply didn’t function as an organization.” Since then, the approach has changed and many institutions such as cooperatives have become more independent, representing and working for the farmers. The system works particularly well for export crop cooperatives. “In Rwanda, where export crops are important, the government has understood that it is better not to interfere with the cooperatives,” said Reiner. Cooperatives now play an independent role throughout the value chain, from commercial production to marketing activities, and most of all they provide a forum in which rural poor people can express their needs and be heard.

As an international development organization, IFAD needs to ensure that it works with the institutions that truly represent the stakeholders it is representing. “This is a key element during project design: to identify the right institution through a thorough analysis, and to give it the adequate resources,” said Anyonge. In the past, many projects failed after completion because the institution in charge of implementation was not adequate, no analysis of the institutional context was made and not enough resources were allocated to building the institution’s capacity to uptake a project. “We have to make sure the project is with the right institutions. That’s what makes the difference between success and failure,” he added. To this end, it is extremely important at the design stage to understand how all the institutions function together, including formal organizations and customary practices, and to identify the possible gaps between them. “Once, we understand this process, we have to make sure we have the right indicators to monitor progress,” added Anyonge (see the following story on institutional analysis).

For more information, contact:

Tom Anyonge, Senior Technical Adviser, IFAD

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Improving project design and implementation through institutional analysis

Weak and inadequate institutional environments are among the leading reasons why rural development projects and programmes do not always maximize performance. “The Independent External Evaluation of IFAD in 2004 confirmed that there is need for a more rigorous understanding of institutional systems and governance issues during design and implementation,” explained Tom Anyonge, senior technical adviser on rural institutions at IFAD. In response, IFAD has embarked upon a process to strengthen its own organizational competencies in institutional analysis and dialogue. The Technical Advisory Division published a sourcebook, “Institutional and organizational analysis for pro-poor change: meeting IFAD’s millennium challenge”, in early 2008. The sourcebook has been written keeping in mind the needs of country programme managers, consultants and project implementers, as well as partners in the field.

The sourcebook is currently being applied in diverse field contexts, which will lead to the development of a user-friendly “Practitioner’s Guide” that will: (i) facilitate better institutional analysis in project design; and (ii) give institutional aspects more attention and prominence during project implementation, supervision, monitoring and evaluation. The Guide is expected to be published at the end of 2010.

The Western and Central Africa Division has developed and published training modules through an Innovation Mainstreaming Initiative (IMI) project. The training modules include key analytic concepts and training exercises, with examples drawn from experiences in IFAD-supported projects in the Western and Central Africa region. The modules present three innovative features: (i) support to stakeholders in diagnosing and overcoming constraints that hinder successful project implementation; (ii) support in the design and execution of more process-oriented rural development projects that aim to build sustainable demand-driven service delivery systems by focusing on livelihood and governance issues; and (iii) a methodological, actor-oriented framework within which to map out pro-poor institutional transformation. During their development, more than 100 professionals from many IFAD divisions and some of its partner organizations were trained through this IMI project.

In addition, during the next three years IFAD will be working with the World Agroforestry Centre to foster support for grassroots organizations to meaningfully participate in governance processes where their livelihoods and well-being and the environment are at stake. Working within IFAD projects in East Africa, “the main purpose is to investigate the key success factors towards building robust pro-poor rural institutions,” said Anyonge. This will lead to the development of a model help strengthen grassroots institutions so that they can effectively engage in policy processes that enable poor rural households to aggregate, mobilize, and access rural services. The outcome of this work will be used to update the “Practitioners Guide”.

For more information, contact:

Norman Messer, Country Programme Manager, IFAD

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Stories from the field

Chad: a system of mixed commissions for conflict management


A community run watering hole on a nomad trail, Chad


A watering point on a nomad route, Chad


In the early 1990s, local communities in Chad faced growing conflicts between sedentary farmers and mobile pastoralists about water and migration routes. Traditionally in the Sahel region of Chad, herders migrate to the north of the country during the rainy season in search of pasture for their livestock. They travel along traditional stock routes for about four months, sharing water points along the way with sedentary farmers. For years the system worked and the various communities were able to live together and share natural resources. However, the situation started deteriorating in the 1970s and 1980s due to climate change and more unpredictable weather patterns. Dry seasons started to last longer, increasing the need for water by both nomads and sedentary farmers. Community conflicts increased as herders migrating back to the south damaged crops before they were harvested, and as farmers began cropping on stock routes.

“Extensive mobile livestock farmers are extremely important in Chad. They account for about 15 million heads, including cattle, camels, sheep and goats, and provide a substantial source of export for the country,” explained Carlo Bravi, country programme manager at IFAD. It is estimated that Chad provides about 30 per cent of neighbouring Nigeria’s meat consumption.  

The tension between migrant and sedentary communities heightened so much that the Sultan of Ouaddai, one of the affected regions in eastern Chad, took the initiative in 1993 to create a mixed commission to prevent and manage conflicts. His initiative was supported by the French Development Agency (AFD), which was working on a pastoral water management project in Eastern Chad (“Almy Bahaim” or water for life). This mixed commission was established to resolve disputes regarding wells, water points and migration routes in eastern Chad, and was chaired by the Sultan, a highly respected traditional authority. The commission included seven traditional leaders from sedentary communities, seven nomad tribe leaders, one representative of the national Organization for Rural Development, two government agents (for water and for the environment) and one AFD representative.

The commission uses a participatory and inclusive process. It sits with migrant herders and farmers to define stock routes and well locations, and to determine who is responsible for maintaining the wells. It then submits a proposal to all communities, which validate it. Once validated, the agreement has to be respected by everybody. The stock routes are marked by painting trees and rocks along the road, and the wells are built along the same route. In case of a dispute, the Sultan remains in the community for as long as it is required (sometimes weeks) to resolve it. The fact that the Sultan is presiding over the commission gives it authority and prestige, as the Sultan is also a religious leader. “There is always a religious base to conflict resolution, which is carried out in accordance with Muslim practices. The idea is to solve a conflict before it escalates into a local war,” said Bravi.

The system is so successful that it was replicated in three other regions in eastern Chad and will be introduced in the IFAD Pastoral Water and Resource Management Project in Sahelian Areas, approved by the Executive Board in September. The project is co-financed by AFD and the Swiss Development Cooperation (SDC) and will support the establishment and operation of more of these mixed commissions in central and western Chad. “The main objective of these commissions is to help the different local communities live together peacefully. Where there is peace, there is economic and social development,” said Bravi.

The overall aim of the project is to improve access to water and basic services for mobile pastoral communities. The planning, management and maintenance of water points will be ensured by the local institutions that the project will help to establish. The project will be implemented by the Ministry of Water. Total cost of the project amounts to US$39.5 million, of which IFAD will provide US$19.5 million in the form of a grant. AFD’s contribution will amount to US$14.2 million and SDC’s to US$2.7 million.

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For more information, contact:

Carlo Bravi, Country Programme Manager, IFAD

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Swaziland: working with Chiefdoms to resolve land issues


A typical Chiefs workshop: the Chiefs actively participate in LUSIP on Chiefdom Development Plans, including land issues, resettlement and agricultural development.


Community training is a regular feature in LUSIP


The Lower Usuthu Smallholder Irrigation Project (LUSIP) was introduced in Swaziland to promote the commercialization and intensification of agriculture. Its primary purpose is to convert 6,500 hectares of subsistence agriculture into commercially viable irrigated fields, run and managed by locally formed farmers’ enterprises. Improved irrigation will allow the community to grow high-value crops such as sugar cane, produce their own food and engage in different forms of livestock enterprises. LUSIP is focusing on the empowerment of local institutions to enable them to be at the forefront of their development.

Some of the main traditional institutions involved in the project are Chiefs and Chiefdoms. The Chiefs are the ultimate authority in the Chiefdom. They are responsible for all land issues on Swazi Nation Land on behalf of the King, who holds the land in trust for the Swazi nation. Chiefs take advice from the Chiefdom Inner Councils, who are responsible for land issues (disputes and land-use changes) and help formulate the Chiefdom development plans. “Access to irrigable land was one of the first issues we had to face in the project,” said Louise McDonald, country programme manager at IFAD. “Since Chiefs are responsible for land issues, it was extremely important to involve them in the project from the start.”

LUSIP is currently working with seven Chiefdoms in the project area. Chiefdom level planning is paramount to transform the local economy. “This approach to development, which emphasizes the participation of the community at all levels, has already seen major successes in the planning and implementation of the LUSIP,” said Lynn Kota at the Swaziland Water and Agricultural Development Enterprise (SWADE), the organization responsible for implementing the project.  

So far, planning at Chiefdom level has achieved the following results:

“The involvement of traditional authorities and other local institutions in the planning and implementation processes has ensured that the poor and vulnerable groups in the project area are the lead participants in the development process,” added Kota.

The project has also put in place a Traditional Leadership Development Programme to prepare traditional leaders for the changes that will occur as a result of the project. The programme will help them understand their role in the development process, so that they can in turn empower their communities to make informed decisions and create sustainable businesses, while preserving the social cohesion and harmony of the community.

One of the challenges of the LUSIP is to continually ensure that the poor and vulnerable groups in the project area are not further marginalized in the process. It is essential for the project to understand poverty from the people’s perspective and in their social and institutional context, in order to improve poverty reduction strategies. Not only will this keep poor people on the LUSIP agenda, it will also be the basis for proper targeting, monitoring and evaluation as well as gender mainstreaming. To this end, participatory poverty and vulnerability assessments and analyses have been carried out, which have helped planning processes to include vulnerable groups in development.

The use of Chiefdom development plans, which were successfully incorporated in the LUSIP, is now being scaled up and integrated into a new Ministry of Tinkhundla and Regional Development.

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The Gambia: the kafos, a unique traditional institution


A meeting of a women's Kafos group in Gambia


Kafo is the name used in The Gambia for a village-based solidarity group, typical in Western African countries. As an institution, kafos have existed for generations to provide mutual assistance and solidarity within the community, and they have remained particularly powerful in The Gambia. “Kafos are based on the principles of mutual assistance and collective action,” explained Bernadette Trottier, an IFAD consultant, and expert on the subject of Kafos. “Members are bound to help each other in times of need: an unexpected illness in the family or a catastrophic event like fire, flooding or drought.”

With the introduction of a market economy and commercial agriculture in The Gambia, kafos have shown an ability to adapt to change, while preserving their basic principles. Affinity-based sub-kafos of women and youths – sometimes even mixed kafos – have been formed to undertake new roles and diversify into income-generating activities such as cash crops and agro-processing. Also, development projects and non-governmental organizations have promoted the creation of smaller, more easily managed kafos for income-generating activities, financial intermediation (micro-credit and savings) and other development initiatives (health, safe water, literacy, etc.). However, their traditional emphasis on cohesion and solidarity has remained. “What’s amazing is how kafos have managed to adapt to rapidly changing needs while keeping true to themselves,” said Trottier. “That may be why they are such a strong rural institution in the country.”

Today, they have become development-oriented groups that are making significant contributions to their village. “That’s another strength of this institution in The Gambia,” explained Trottier. “They have no difficulty in accepting that a few members may decide to form an affinity-based sub-kafo, only rarely abandoning the key values and principles of their larger kafos.” The original kafos were village-wide. Although membership was voluntary, all the women and youths in the village were expected to join. “One could opt out, albeit at risk of being considered anti-social,” said Trottier. Yet, members often formed sub-kafos for specific purposes. Newcomers to the village are welcomed regardless of their origin or religion, and assistance is often provided to non-members (for example, to victims of a fire or flood). “It is their duty to support more vulnerable community members, and it works because members never know when they might need help,” she explained.

Women are particularly reliant on their kafo, which tends to replace the family and friends the women leave when they marry and move to their husband’s village. However, it doesn’t mean that they are women-only groups. On the contrary, women’s kafos are increasingly likely to have a few trustworthy and literate men as members. “It is not unusual to see men be members of a women’s kafo, and youth kafos often provide the heavy labour for a project without expectation of becoming direct beneficiaries,” said Trottier. Older men have mainly oversight and advisory roles, with a strong emphasis on promoting community welfare and land tenure. Men’s kafos often participate actively in implementing women’s projects.

Village-wide kafos are mostly informal institutions, but the sub-kafos created for an economic purpose are increasingly formalized. Formal or informal, their leaders are recognized by the entire village, having been selected by consensus on the basis of personal qualities like integrity, diligence, community spirit and ability to represent members’ views. They tend to be both representative and influential. “The ability of villagers to contest mistrusted leaders may be closely linked to the strength of the kafos as local institutions,” said Trottier. She recalled a typical instance reported by Gambian sociologist Donald Sock: “Some years ago, a team of livestock technicians had called a meeting with the leaders of a community to discuss a technical matter. As the local residents had doubts about their leaders’ integrity, everybody turned up.” The village-wide kafos are truly representative and equitable, with extraordinarily rigourous rules, regulations and goals. Although less representative, sub-kafos are similar in every other way. Strong peer pressure makes them excellent partners for any development project. Anyone who is expelled from a kafo or sub-kafo is not likely to be seen as trustworthy by anyone else living in that community or elsewhere.

IFAD’s interest in kafos and sub-kafos has always been motivated by their strong emphasis on equity and solidarity. The Fund’s experience began with women’s kafos under the Jahaly-Pacharr Smallholder Project in the 1980s. “In IFAD’s experience, community-based targeting works best when it operates through kafos: the village-wide ones for identifying the most vulnerable, and the smaller activity-specific ones for involving the most vulnerable in development activities,” said Leopold Sarr, country programme manager at IFAD. Work with the kafos was further strengthened in subsequent projects. The Lowlands Agricultural Development Project worked closely with local leadership, and the influence of village-wide women’s kafos helped preserve women’s access to the rice fields. Under the Rural Finance and Community Initiatives Project, horticultural gardens were developed for village-wide women’s kafos and sub-kafos of all kinds (women, youth, mixed), which undertook farming and non-farming income-generating activities. A similar role is envisaged for them in the Livestock and Horticulture Development Project, a new project to be presented for approval by the Executive Board in December 2009.

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ROPPA: interview with Mohamadou Magha, General Secretary

ROPPA is the Western Africa network of agricultural producers and farmers' organizations (RĂ©seau des organisations paysannes et de producteurs de l'Afrique de l'Ouest), and as such represents national farmers' organizations in 12 Western African countries: Benin, Burkina Faso, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo. It is organized in a pyramid structure whereby in each of these countries, a national platform brings together federations of farmers from various sectors and regions. They in turn bring together local and regional organizations. In addition, ROPPA has partnerships with farmers' organizations in Nigeria and is developing relationships with organizations in Cape Verde and Liberia.

What are your main objectives as an organization?
ROPPA was created to promote and defend the interests of small farmers and agricultural producers, for a performing and sustainable agricultural sector. It works at organizing the sector in each country for better dialogue, consultation and increased solidarity. It represents farmers and agricultural producers within local, regional, national and international institutions and aims to influence political decisions relevant to that sector. Its overall objective is to work for a sustainable and thriving agricultural sector in the future.

What are your main areas of work? 
ROPPA works a lot on political issues such as agricultural policy and commercial agreements, and promotes the creation of a better environment for African agriculture to develop. Some of our major themes include: recognizing smallholdings as the basis of agricultural development; land security for farmers; legal rights for smallholdings; access to technologies, innovations and information; access to micro-credit; access to markets; food security; governments’ responsibility to adopt adequate policies to support agriculture; and dialogue at different levels for better governance of the sector. ROPPA also deals with economic issues such as modernizing smallholder farms and creating value chains. 

What are the main obstacles ROPPA has to face?
There are many obstacles, or rather challenges. Internally, we have to overcome problems of financing and members’ capacity, leadership training, availability of technical experts, and members’ requirements. More broadly, we constantly have to face difficulties from governments in accepting and recognizing the capacity of farmers’ organizations to submit proposals and influence legislation. We also have to face attempts to divide farmers’ movements.

What are the main issues ROPPA is dealing with daily?
ROPPA is trying daily to implement its three strategic objectives, which are defending smallholdings, strengthening national farmers’ organizations and promoting produce from smallholders. ROPPA works in many different ways, from organizing meetings to managing projects and providing support services to farmers.

How does ROPPA manage relationships with traditional institutions, which are organized less formally?
Unfortunately, traditional institutions do not organize themselves into regional networks and are therefore less visible. However, our base members are very aware of them, particularly in the livestock and fisheries sectors, where they tend to be members of both traditional and more modern institutions. Often, they work together to prevent conflicts or manage communal areas and resources. We often invite traditional institutions to debate topics such as biodiversity and resources management.

In your view, what is the main purpose of a farmers’ organization today?
I believe it has many functions. It has an economic function – input supply, collecting agricultural produce, production, processing and export. It has a support services function to members, including information, advice and micro-credit. It provides services to third parties, such as technical and financial intermediaries, project management and monitoring, consulting and advice. It also has a public service function regarding land and water management, and environmental protection. Its social role includes member solidarity, health, education and food security. And it has the function of political representation and influencing policies.

What are the main differences between Western and Eastern African rural organizations?
The main differences are historical. During the colonization process in Eastern and Southern Africa, a minority took the land and developed commercial agriculture with large plantations, whereas in Western Africa, commercial crops were still managed by the local population in small- or medium-size holdings. However, they were subject to different constraints. Furthermore, the institutional and political contexts in which they developed were different.
Today, farmers’ organizations throughout the continent tend to converge and get closer. In each region, they have strong political and social roles to play to defend small producers and farmers. With the creation of a continental platform, we’re hoping that farmers’ organizations from the two regions will agree on common principles and joint action.

What will be the greatest challenges for African agriculture in the next ten years?
There are many of them, but the main ones will be to feed a growing population, the urban population in particular, to allow producers to earn a decent income from farming while generating wealth for the country, to develop in a sustainable way for the environment, and to preserve community values. The African agricultural sector will have to stand up to fierce competition from other regions of the globe, while protecting farmers against unfair competition. It will have to drastically modernize by improving technology and minimizing costs, increasing knowledge and innovations as well as providing adequate financial support. It will have to become more efficient in a context of environmental sustainability and climate change constraints.

What will be ROPPA’s role in this context?
ROPPA will have to strengthen itself further, particularly in three areas. First, it will need to provide a strong voice for all producers. This will mean the inclusion of all, professionally, socially and geographically. ROPPA will extend its membership to all countries of the Western African economic community, CEDEAO (Communauté Economique des Pays de l’Afrique de l’Ouest), and form strategic alliances with other farmers’ movements in Western African countries. It will work at developing a continental African platform for farmers’ organizations. Secondly, it will need to continue supporting smallholders and their base organizations. This will imply helping them produce better, seize market opportunities, improve their knowledge and create market synergies.
And third, ROPPA will need to become a single solidarity front to promote good governance of the agricultural sector and influence policy to guarantee food security, land and water access, and access to well regulated international markets, thus enabling small farmers to thrive.

For more information, contact:

Mohamadou MAGHA, General Secretary, ROPPA

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Water users associations: a particular case


Members of a water management association meet on the shores of a drying lake


In most developing countries, agriculture accounts for more than 80 per cent of water use. With an increasing number of countries facing severe water shortages, efficient use of water by agriculture to reduce poverty and hunger is a significant issue. Therefore, an increased focus on the agricultural sector is needed to address the water crisis. “The process is under extreme pressure because of water scarcity and climate change. Where water is scarce, the rules of the game are increasingly characterized by growing violence,” said Rudolph Cleveringa, senior technical adviser at IFAD.

Local water governance structures already exist in some form, but they are not systematically recognized at higher institutional levels. For centuries, farmers have organized themselves into informal water users associations (WUAs) around a water source they were sharing. In this way, they were able to provide fair access to water, manage maintenance, resolve conflicts and manage the evolution of the system to continue matching the growing needs of the local population. Typically, the group would pool together their financial, technical, material and human resources to build, operate and maintain a water system, including handling disputes internally and collecting fees. While officials or representatives executed duties, the real authority lay with the general assembly of water users, who all have a common link to one particular water source. Members were careful to take fair decisions regarding disputes, knowing they may be themselves at the centre of a dispute in the future.

More recently in a number of projects, modern WUAs were established where traditional custom-based systems used to operate. Sometimes, they were introduced without reference to these traditional structures: a standard model of association was put in place from the outside without fully understanding the intricacies of local customs. “We’ve seen in some cases that modern WUAs didn’t integrate traditional systems and were seen as temporary arrangements that would evolve into cooperative types of organizations,” said Audrey Nepveu, technical adviser on water at IFAD. “That tends to lead to confusion in social organization between traditional structures and modern WUAs, and is ultimately counter-productive.” However, because of their model based on participation and inclusion of all, WUAs have become a valuable tool in participatory development projects. “It is particularly important to ensure that WUAs promote the effective participation of farmers, and give them a strong sense of ownership,” explained Nepveu. “They also need to take into account traditional and indigenous/customary knowledge and practices. That’s a prerequisite to success.”

In Eastern and Southern Africa, a number of irrigation projects have succeeded in introducing WUAs, which incorporated traditional water management community structures. This is the case of the Upper Mandraré Basin Development Project (1995-2001 and 2001-2008) in Madagascar, which rehabilitated irrigation to increase the on- and off-farm income of rural inhabitants in the southern Mandraré region. A number of water users groups (WUGs) were established in the project as part of the component on strengthening local capacity. “The approach was designed to facilitate sustainable WUGs, and not simply build and upgrade,” explained Nepveu. “A protocole d’accord was designed jointly with the water users groups, which elaborated the community contributions to the schemes, and the intended results and responsibilities for scheme management.”

The project succeeded in launching a comprehensive process with a high degree of genuine participation and enabling community empowerment. “It applied a variety of methods for identifying community problems through diagnostic and participatory planning, and followed a pre-established participatory, step-by-step process for engaging with communities,” added Nepveu. The key to local commitment to the project was that WUGs were in the driving seat from the design stage, negotiating with consultancy companies and receiving infrastructure works once completed.

In 2005, about half the WUGs had matured to a level which allowed the external project intervention to progressively disengage. Further institutional strengthening of WUGs also reduced the number of external trainers, leaving capable farmers to train their peers. However, some WUGs still faced constraints, namely high illiteracy, a low rate of self-financing and reliance on close advisory support.
WUAs are also being introduced on a larger scale in the Participatory Small-scale Irrigation Development Programme, which started in 2008 to reform small-scale irrigation development approaches and practices in Ethiopia. The challenge here will be to articulate the various uses of water, under one or several WUAs. In addition, the network for Improved Agricultural Water Management in Eastern and Southern Africa (IMAWESA) provides a forum in which water issues can be discussed and best practices exchanged between WUAs in the different countries.

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Land administration institutions


Rwanda: a para-surveyor showing community members a map of land parcels.


Tanzania: a local signpost designates land use - this way for grazing, that way for crop farming.


Land is typically the main asset of IFAD’s target groups, yet their land rights are often poorly protected due to weak land administration systems. This undermines people’s willingness to invest in their land as well as their ability to access credit. It has also resulted in widespread disputes over land. A recent FAO/Transparency International survey found that, after politicians and police, land administration is seen to be among the most corrupt government services, especially in Africa (see table below). Corruption underpins a significant amount of land grabbing by local and national elites.

Typically in Africa, official land administration institutions are not accessible to rural people. Instead, most land use and access is regulated through
customary institutions. In recent years there has been growing recognition of the need to integrate customary institutions into decentralized land administration systems. Together, decentralized government and community-based institutions can better address issues of land tenure security and sustainable land management. Community-based legal aid services also have a key role to play in defending land rights of poor rural people, especially households headed by women.

IFAD is supporting the strengthening of land administration systems in a number of countries in Africa: Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, Eritrea, The Gambia, Guinea, Kenya, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Swaziland, Tanzania and Uganda. The Fund is also supporting the African Union Commission, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and the African Development Bank in developing guidelines for land policy formulation and implementation, and is collaborating with FAO in formulating similar global guidelines for good land and natural resource governance.

For more information, contact:

Harold Liversage, Land Programme Manager, IFAD

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News and events

Loans and grants approved by the September 2009 Executive Board

Country loans and grants

Loans, grants and COSOPs to be presented to the December 2009 Executive Board

Country loans and grants

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Harold Liversage is rejoining IFAD’s Eastern and Southern Africa Division as Land Programme Manager. Over the next few months, he will divide his time between the Division (75 per cent) and IFAD’s Technical Advisory Division (25 per cent). Later in the year, Harold will be out-posted to the IFAD office in Nairobi, Kenya, where he will focus on developing a land programme for the region. 

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Recent/upcoming events


Start-up of the Market-oriented Smallholder Agriculture Project will take place between 3 and 10 December. 

Subject to approval, the first design mission of the Agricultural Services Support Programme (ASSP) is planned to take place between 23 November and 18 December.

From 8 to 24 November, a supervision mission will take place for the Projet d'appui au sous-secteur de l'élevage (PARSE).



In November, follow-up missions to the Southern Nyanza Community Development Project and Central Kenya Dry Area Smallholder and Community Services Development Project will be carried out.


The second supervision mission of the Support Programme for Rural Microenterprise Poles and Regional Economies (PROSPERER) will be undertaken from 16 November to 2 December.


A supervision mission for the Rural Diversification Programme and the start-up workshop and implementation support mission for the Marine and Agricultural Resources Support Programme will jointly take place between 12 and 23 October. 





The follow-up mission for the country programme and planning for the start-up of the Smallholder Agribusiness Promotion Programme will take place from 25 to 31 October. 


The annual Regional Implementation Workshop for IFAD-assisted projects and programmes in Eastern and Southern Africa will take place in Bujumbura, Burundi from 16 to 19 November. It is anticipated that between 150 and 200 participants will attend. The workshop will focus on agricultural productivity and access to markets.

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Financial Management Reporting Guide: English and French, available on the following IFAD internet sites:

Financial management and good governance: English | French

Here you will find complete information on IFAD financial management and good governance, including policies, guidelines and training materials on supervision, loan administration and procurement, auditing and accounting, risk management, thematic documents, and country-specific documents.

The newly uploaded procurement training materials can also be found on the internet

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Useful links

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