|The Courier N° 137 - January - February 1993 Dossier: Development and Cooperation - Country Report: Mauritania (EC Courier, 1993, 100 p.)|
Reflecting the growing realisation that, in development as in other fields, small projects on a human scale sometimes offer better chances of success, the idea of microprojects was first put forward during the Lomegotiations in 1974/15. Adopted 'on an experimental basis' at that time, microprojects have since been confirmed as a highly effective EC aid instrument.
Projects qualify as microprojects if they meet a priority need expressed and identified locally, and if they are run on the initiative and with the involvement of the local community benefiting from them. Typical projects are rural water supplies, dip tanks, schools, woodlots, small enterprise projects and footbridges.
Microprojects are a way of making significant improvements in the living conditions of rural populations, particularly the poorest and most isolated sections who are cut off from other types of development aid. For rural populations, they are often the only instrument of progress available, particularly for women and children. The implementation of a microproject often involves the setting up of a project committee which helps the community to assume responsibility and develops local management capacity. This new organisational ability then underpins the future running of the project. In this way, both the sustainability and the impact of the project are improved.
Microprojects are growing in popularity and extent. Currently, nearly half of the ACP countries have chosen to take advantage of this particular form of cooperation, although they still represent a small proportion of the overall aid made available under the Lomonventions (2.5% under LomII).
Swaziland is one country that has a high proportion of its development assistance from the EC in the form of microprojects - over 15% of the LomII National Indicative Programme (ECU 3 million) was allocated for this purpose and although the figure is somewhat lower under LomV it is still a substantial component in the overall programme (ECU 2.2 million or roughly 9% of the total).
The big increase in the commitment to microprojects in Swaziland which took place under LomII was accompanied by a conceptual change in the way they were to be administered. A largely autonomous MPP Unit was established consisting of an EC-funded technical assistant as project manager supported by local staff for financial control, project appraisal and monitoring. The flexibility with which such an independent unit could operate soon proved to be a major advantage. It became clear at an early stage that the Government ministries had a much more limited capacity for this type of activity than had previously been supposed but, instead of grinding to a halt when faced with this obstacle, the MPP Unit was able to adjust and keep moving.
It started working more closely with NGOs, who were often closer to local communities and were well-placed to ensure that beneficiaries were appropriately trained. The MPP also strengthened its direct links with the beneficiary groups and implemented some projects itself, or even devised innovative ways of utilising assistance from private commercial firms.
In this way, the MPP Unit became a catalyst for mobilising many parties concerned with rural development. It is to the credit of the Swaziland Government that it saw the necessity of flexible and autonomous management of the Unit. The latter's responsiveness to community needs and its ability to give an immediate reply to requests is undoubtedly the secret of its success. More than 200 projects have now been implemented, bringing social and economic benefits to more than 85 000 people.
In the early phase of the programme the majority of projects were for building schools. More recently, however, requests have increasingly focused on income-generation and rural employment creation. Such projects are more demanding in terms of appraisal, the training that is required, and follow-up than those in the social sector, and plans are under way to strengthen the MPP Unit's ability to respond to this challenge. In the first four years (under LomII), the projects implemented with the Unit's assistance represented almost 4% of the total capital expenditure of the Swaziland Government - an extraordinary achievement when one considers that the Unit has a staff of only ten people!
Under LomV, the existing arrangements are set to continue, with the emphasis increasingly on income-generating projects. On the organisational side, the only major change is that the management of the MPP Unit will be localised. It is worth noting that the figure of ECU 2.2 million does not include technical assistance, which is now accounted for separately. The reduction in funds for microprojects is, accordingly, less than the raw figures imply.
Projects that can be funded fall into four main categories:
Agricultural: Irrigation, dams, wells, vegetable gardens, crop production, livestock and animal husbandry, dip-tanks and forestry.
Social infrastructure: Education (schools), non-formal education (such as workshops for carpentry or tailoring), health care (rural clinics or maternity wards), women's and youth group activities, cultural and community centres, rural water supply and sanitation.
Economic infrastructure: Markets, warehouses, stores and silos, craft industries and premises to encourage commercial activities, rural electrification and agro-based industries (such as mills and oil extractors).
General infrastructure: Minor roads minor bridges and footbridges.