|Development Projects in the Sudan: An Analysis of their Reports with Implications for Research and Training in Arid Land Management (UNU, 1979, 58 pages)|
|4. Project evaluation|
Analysis of the projects described in chapter 3 permits the discussion of a number of problems which throw some light on issues of development in general on the one hand, and on specific aspects of arid land management on the other. There is certainly no way always to differentiate clearly between these areas, and the author is not sure that it would always be sensible to do so. Development of arid areas is a complex task which combines elements of social and capital investment. training and research, organization and motivation of the people involved; it calls for much central as well as decentralized planning and implementation. It demands a national framework allowing rural development a certain priority and at the same time requires the observation of environmental restrictions to save and restore the very natural resources the people depend on. To isolate factors which are purely "arid land issues" may have some theoretical value but will not be very helpful in designing and implementing projects of the types described above. The overall issue may rather be stated as follows: projects in arid and semi-arid regions should be organized with the goal of economic viability and social acceptance of the people involved under the restriction that permanence of cultivation is possible and provided for.
As a first step towards the systematic development of a training programme in
arid land management (section 5.2) and out of the experience of the analyzed
projects. the following major problem areas can be identified:
-permanence of cultivation,
-social acceptance, and
Out of these four problem areas only one, permanence of cultivation. seems to be a pure arid land question, while the remaining three are apparent also in many non-arid land projects. On the other side. experience shows clearly that there is no way of solving the question of the permanent use of arid land resources without having projects that are not plagued by organizational problems (administrative, infrastructural logistic. staff quality, etc.) and economic issues (low yields, high costs great risks, budgetary restrictions, marketing problems, price policy, etc.). These problems and issues are part of the arid land situation as well as of the general state of development of the country. The possession of large areas of arid land makes development certainly more difficult than it is in regions with a more temperate climate. But areas with more rainfall have other problems in a number of fields which make the development process as difficult as in arid areas. This can be observed if one compares northern and southern Sudan and their states of development.
The remaining social acceptance problem of many projects will be discussed later in more detail. but in connection with the discussion above it seems appropriate to point to one specific aspect. People in arid land regions are mainly nomads and their way of life is determined by the needs and the rewards of their livestock economy. Project experience shows that social acceptance is no particular problem if the function of the nomadic livestock system is secured. If not, the people may disappear with their animals into the vast hinterland. This could be called a specific issue of the arid land discussion which, of course. is not observed with settled cultivators in more temperate zones. The positive side of such a signal of nonacceptance of a development project by nomadic people may lie in the fact that mistakes or deficiencies in project design become apparent very soon after a project starts. This opens the door for remedies very early during the project's lifespan. Projects in non-arid areas may go on for long periods with the illusion that they are accepted by the people because the residents are still around. but in reality they don't care at all and the project collapses after the experts leave.
4.1.1 Permanence of Cultivation
All the project reports analyzed and personal observations leave many doubts
that the permanence of cultivation of rain-fed projects in the Sudan has been
given the attention this issue needs from an environmental and economic point of
view. Historical experience in most countries of the world gives evidence that
the use of arid land in modern times is mainly an issue of profit expectations
for individuals and the society, not of protection of the soil to keep it
fertile for more than one generation. For the purpose of this study. permanence
of cultivation may be defined as participants having 25 or more years
perspective towards their use of the land they start cultivating as a
development project. Will it be possible to create "farmers" out of
cultivators who are presently operating the schemes ? Doubts are expressed in
1 ) Does the environment allow continuous cropping ?
2) Does the administrative performance guarantee the continuous cropping ?
3) Are the local people motivated to continue efforts to secure continuous cropping ?
Most data show high rates of fluctuations of yields due to a number of reasons. The major reason has certainly been the irregularity of rainfall in the project areas. This points to the fact that the economic risk of such projects will always be high, and only people who are able to carry this risk should be encouraged to be engaged in mechanized rain-fed schemes. But besides rainfall. the tendency of most projects to show decreasing yields after initial high returns to their investment points to the serious impact mechanized farming may have on the environment. The depletion of soils has apparently started immediately after the first crop has been harvested. Specification of fallow in the crop rotation proved to be a major difficulty. None of the project reports was able to give an answer to questions about permanence in the affirmative only. In some instances. the problem may be reduced by the introduction of more rigorous crop rotation, the application of fertilizer, the better observation of soilconserving techniques, etc. In other instances. the cultivation of the project area may have to be confined to certain years only. whenever favourable weather conditions allow cultivation without an irreversible threat to the environment. But in general. the question about the permanence of cultivation cannot be answered without more research based upon reliable long term rainfall data and soil fertility studies. Some project areas have apparently been selected very haphazardly, without proper surveys at all in this respect. Studies on motivation and participation of the local population were usually also not done.
All reports on irrigated projects show less doubt that the soils can be cultivated permanently as long as water remains available and minimum standards of soil preparation, crop rotation, and fertilization are observed. The major production problems seem to be the lack of knowledge about the optimum combination of crops. the question of soil salinization, the need for drainage. the danger of not mastering the weed problem, etc. In addition. human and administrative problems are dominant due to the lack of social research into the most suitable system of participation of the local population. and due to the low standards of organizational performance at various levels of the central and regional institutions. as well as in the projects themselves.
4.1.2 Organizational Shortcomings
The problems of organization emerged in all types of projects, which was certainly not unexpected. Some were due simply to the remoteness of the projects, which made it difficult to provide the necessary services and inputs at reasonable costs and on time. The question to be asked is whether or not certain projects should have been started at all if the infrastructure for transport. services, processing, etc. was simply not there to justify the beginning. The factual knowledge about such links must be improved through training devices for those people who make decisions about project implementation. The common problems that inputs were always late or not available at all. that timeliness of land preparation and seeding was seldom observed, and that crops could not be harvested point to major shortcomings of planning and implementing procedures. This needs serious attention in future arid land management programmes. People must be trained in methods to identify bottlenecks early enough to allow impacts of their removal during the project's life-span without being bound to slow administrative structures. The question of the most suitable project organization for all projects cannot be answered from the available data. This remains open to the specific circumstances of each project. Qualification of the staff is a major bottleneck. If highly qualified staff cannot be attracted, the targets of a project have to be adjusted to the real level of performance which can reasonably be expected from less qualified staff. The inclusion of a certain period of in-service training for highly motivated young experts, instead of starting them immediately on their own, without experience, would have solved some problems.
A number of organizational problems would have been solved by the better co-ordination of various agencies of the governmental machinery. The lack of awareness that different ministries and their regional representatives can be co-ordinated through a common plan of action points to the fact that psychological and organizational aspects of coordination have never played any decisive role in project design and implementation. But they contribute to quite a number of failures. This became very obvious, e.g., by the need for organizing the necessary labour force for harvesting cotton in the larger irrigation schemes. Huge losses occurred due to insufficient recruiting procedures for hiring labour for seasonal work.
4.1.3 Social Acceptance
All of the projects show various problems of acceptance by the local population. A wide range of opinions, from the outright rejection of the whole project up to the very active involvement of people to support a project structure. was observed. A number of problems arose from land ownership disputes, especially among settlers and nomads. The experience from such projects shows clearly that land rights have to be settled before the project activities start-or many efforts will be in vain. Not taking into account the legitimate interest of livestockowning nomads when starting a settlement scheme in their area has been the reason for many troubles. In addition, the neglect of local leaders and their role in tribal conflicts has accounted for a number of expected and unexpected events which, to say the least, reduced the speed with which the project moved ahead.
Social acceptance became a particular problem in irrigation projects where nomads were expected to be available for scheduled work in their fields at time periods which apparently clashed with their livestockherding interests. The nomads opposed the management interest in those projects also where livestock had to be restricted to certain specified areas despite the fact that the pasture conditions there were insufficient. The nomads in each case gave priority to their livestock interests. not to the project's intention. One further aspect can be cited as reducing a pasture scheme's success: livestock disease control connected with tax revenue collection for the government. This causes many owners to present only parts of their herds, resulting in animal health problems for the region as a whole.
Social acceptance of development proposals apparently has much to do with available opportunities for the target groups to participate effectively in the project planning. Consequently, quite a number of failures are due to the lack of institutions, e.g.. cooperatives. to allow the grassroots level a proper participation. A further point: the involvement of nongoverment organizations (NGO's) in project implementation has seldom been tried but it may be the key for more interest of the local population in an active engagement.
4.1.4 Economic Viability
Most of the economic results of the projects are acceptable from the private point of view of the farmers, but not of the public as a whole. All the projects are heavily subsidized by the government, mostly from external sources, and none would be able to continue without further support. This is not only true for investments but, in a number of cases, for the recurrent budgets also. The calculation of the social profitability of the projects includes the revaluing of inputs and outputs at shadow prices for labour, capital, and foreign exchange, which reflect better the true opportunity costs of these resources than do existing market prices. But the problem is that many of a project's benefits and costs are in the form of indirect social or environmental effects; their contribution to the national income or their losses cannot be directly assessed.
Depending on the observer's point of view, some projects may be called economically viable as long as the private profitability of the projects is secured and the major goal of creating some productive employment for that region's population is reached. The economic return for the individual depends mainly upon the national price policy for the output and the costs of inputs (including labour). In addition, price fluctuations and late payment for products may have negative impacts upon a project's results. Large income variations among a project's population indicate that more care must be taken to select settlers who have a homogeneous level of training and motivation suitable to reach the project's goals.
The projects' internal economic problems arose mainly from budgetary constraints, the high costs of maintenance and fuel, the low standard of infrastructure with resulting heavy expenses for transport and communication, as well as the lack of management flexibility. But the major cause for concern lies in the fact that physical yields are not sufficient to justify the existing cost structure and cost volumes. Further efforts to raise private and social profitability must at first be directed towards yield-increasing and fertility-stabilizing activities. In addition, the creation of other job opportunties outside the projects may help to ease some of the economic problems observed that were due to seasonal unemployment.
One particular economic problem of irrigation schemes has been pointed out through facts of reduced yields due to lack of water during the late season. While quite frequently the first crop got more than enough water during the rainy season, the second crop suffered because of a low water storage capacity. Sometimes it did not pay to harvest a second crop at all because of very low yields.
Credit. another case in point, has a major role in most project plans, but many reports show low rates of repayment of loans for various reasons. The management usually tries to recover credit by subtracting all costs from the return of the cash crop only. That in turn reduces the interest of farmers to produce such a crop because the product price has lost its incentive effect. The system must be changed to allow the repayment of credit from various sources throughout the year. not just from the only cash crop produced.
A further concern is the quick transfer of staff. The losses occurring because staff members are transferred too frequently cannot be calculated easily but must be of great magnitude, judging from the low performance of the many projects where staff problems became apparent. The question of motivation of staff to serve in rural areas has been widely discussed in the literature on many occasions. There is certainly need for more understanding of the situation of project personnel in remote areas. Motivation goes hand in hand with accomplishment. Therefore project design in arid land areas has to make sure that realistic goals are set, and if reached, awards should be given to strengthen the motivation of staff to continue. The question of personal interest in the results of a project seems to be one key to improvement of staff performance and to reduction of frequent transfers. Solving issues of staff motivation and staff frustration must be a serious part of the total project approach.
A more interested staff would certainly attack a number of common administrative problems of economic viability. such as inadequate accounting, missing supervision of technical equipment, and little interest in local research and assessment, with more vigor than usually observed by a casual visitor. They would also welcome more evaluation of their projects if they knew that such activities were there to help improve performance and not for control only.