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Impact monitoring under the spotlight

The experiences of the Palmyrah Workers' Development Society by Amirtharat Anandhy

Participatory Impact Monitoring (PIM) has been developed and tested between 1991 and 1994 by an international team of cooperation partners of GATE's Information Service on Appropriate Technology (ISAT). The report on the Palmyrah Workers' Development Society illustrates one experience with PIM. This Indian NGO introduced the PIM concept independently and without external advisors, disposing only the preliminary version of the PIM guidelines.

Tapping the sweet sap of palms has long been a traditional occupation in India. In Tamil Nadu alone an estimated 600,000 people are involved in harvesting and processing of palm juice or neera. This Indian state prohibits the production of alcohol from palm sap and people turn it into a raw sugar (jaggery).

Palm tappers have always been poor. Most of them are landless and are mere tenants of the palms they harvest. Their situation, however, has much deteriorated over the last decades, since the market for sugar has been largely taken over by sugar cane. The palm tapper community did not have the capacity to adjust their product to the changing market situation.

From jaggery to candy-making

The Palmyrah Workers Development Society (PWDS), a non-governmental organisation was founded in 1977 with the objective to organize palm workers and assist them in improving their economic situation. During recent years emphasis was placed particularly on developing new and marketable products from palm juice that will secure a higher income for tappers. The declining market for jaggery - only 30 % is consumed directly while 70 % of the production is bought by distilleries and the large amount of expensive firewood required for making jaggery forced many tappers out of business to seek alternative employment.

A Team for Income Generation and Product Development Support (TIPS) was founded within PWDS to carry out the development work, to motivate communities and to assist them in taking on new processes. It was a key objective to develop technologies that will yield products with a higher value added and, most important, that can be handled and managed by tappers themselves.

The production of rock candies (large sugar crystals) from palmyrah sap was identified as a product with excellent prospects on the local market. A technology package was developed; the investment and working capital for the first five units were provided by PWDS and marketing was taken care of by a separate unit that had been initiated by PWDS.

The community workers of PWDS discussed candy making, its economic prospects and risks with different 'mantrams' (i. e. village groups that were initiated by PWDS). From the mantrams, groups of around 10 families emerged to take on the new entrepreneurial activity. In the first year, the programme started off with one group; by the third year the target of five groups that was set by PWDS for the pilot phase was reached.

It was a considerable venture and risk for the tapper families to enter. Working and investment capital amounted to about 100,000 RS (3,300 US$) for each unit. In contrast, the daily turnover of a tapper doing traditional jaggery boiling amounted to just 50 Rs.

Tappers had never before jointed together to undertake an economic enterprise of that kind and that size. They have been managing their life on a rather individual base. People in this situation of course have their doubts, their fears and their hesitations about the success of an undertaking such as the planned candy units. The same applies to the accompanying NGO.

Through PWDS' close contact with FAKT, a German consulting firm based in Stuttgart that supported the technical development of alternative palm juice uses, the concept of participative impact monitoring was introduced and tested as a tool for reflection and monitoring by the tapper groups.

PIM in community development

PIM as a monitoring tool aims at ensuring people's participation in judging and steering a project's activities themselves. It requires continuous observation and assessment of project's impact and making joint decisions on the part of the community to take corrective action. This kind of monitoring is particularly important for community-based income generation projects that aim at increasing people's autonomy.

While conventional monitoring measures the degree to which specified project objectives and targets have been achieved, PIM wants people to monitor the impact of a project on their life as they perceive it. Furthermore, traditional monitoring activities are generally carried out by project staff for the organisation's and funding agency's requirements with little involvement of the community and their respective needs. PIM is oriented not only towards technical and economical changes but also towards learning processes and change of attitudes. The positive and the negative changes that occur within the framework of the project are analysed and timely intervention on the part of the community is made possible.

In a first step people were introduced to the concept of PIM. Both men and women sat together and discussed the implications of the proposed candy-making project. In the course of the discussions, fears and doubts, expectations and hopes were brought up and put in writing on large posters. About 70 % of the participants have basic skills in literacy. A facilitator helped the group to reflect on critical issues such as the situation of women and children. The main expectations expressed were:

- Family income will increase when switching from jaggery to candy making

- High quality candy is produced

- This should reduce the enormous work load on women and give them more time for rest, caring for the children or take on alternative employment

- With the higher income the community hopes to take on saving and credit schemes

The issues that people feared were in particular

- Will candy making really be profitable or will they incur losses?

- Will the tappers in the group cooperate?

- Will tappers supply quality neera, or cheat?

- Will they be able to sell candy at a decent price?

- Will they get the full profit or will PWDS take money for their people and the car that brings them to the community?

- Will the local climate allow candy making?

Then the group identified with the help of the facilitator a set of indicators to follow and observe the fears and expectations:

- Quality of the neera supplied (sugar content, pH)
- The quantity of neera supplied
- The number of tappers participating in supply
- The candy yield and quality - Cost of production
- Candy and jaggery prices
- The profit that tappers receive ultimately
- The money that people can save
- The time that women can save
- The number of women getting alternative employment - The number of people at tending the meetings

Problems with PIM

The palm tapping season lasts for about four months. During that period the group member meet fortnightly. Books and accounts are kept as transparent as possible, so that the group can review the figures and follow the set indicators during their fortnightly meetings as easily as possible. For book-keeping, PWDS staff provided training.

People review the problems and the steps that were taken by the staff and group members to manage these problems. There were numerous examples where the group managed acute problems.

In one unit the palm syrup did not produce any candies in the crystallizers after the common 40 day resting period on two subsequent days. The problem was raised in the meeting. The group checked the quality of the neera sup plied on the respective days by looking through the supply book. They found that a tapper had delivered sub-standard palm juice (low pH) while the candy unit worker had not taken the appropriate action of rejecting it. On the same day, minimum standards were defined again, published on a poster at the unit, and the workers at the unit were instructed to accept only the juice that conformed to the set standards.

A concern at nearly every meeting were the operational costs of the units and the search for ways to lower them. Firewood is a major cost factor; PWDS initially suggested buying the firewood in bulk. Through analysis, however, the tappers found it to be cheaper if the group members collected low quality firewood and scraps and were paid for it.

The experience of sitting together to discuss and solve problems proved to be a most valuable experience. With the additional spare time women started to run their own groups and started saving and credit schemes.


After three years of operation, five candy-making units are well established and running. The groups have bought land with their money to build solid houses for the processing units, a clear indicator that they have trust and confidence in the future. Many more groups have come forward with a proposal to start their own processing unit. Since the experimental phase has ended, the investment and working capital for these new units will have to be provided by banks.

PIM will be an essential tool to allow the groups to reflect on and steer the development of their group and their unit.

PIM: Successes and Obstacles

In June 1994 ISAT's partners met for the final evaluation of the PIM concept and field phase.

Four organizations reported on five projects where PIM had been tested. Main results of the Workshop were:

· PIM is easy for grass roots organizations and NGOs to apply; it helps to steer the project activities and increases the responsibility of the involved people;

· PIM makes capacity-building and changes in behaviour visible; and the application of PIM even induces new learning processes;

· PIM helps to clarify people's informal expectations beyond formal planning, and to make them respected in the evolution of the project;

· PIM is not only a monitoring but also a planning instrument ;

· PIM is not only useful in project management, it also induces personal, team and organization development.

Main obstacles to PIM:

· PIM tends to change the power structure and to cause resistance by those who risk losing power; although this is inherent to every participatory approach which strives for transparency and joint decision making, we should be aware that not every organization or project is strong enough to endure people's empowerment;

· PIM only makes sense if there is mutual trust between-the people's organization, development organization and funding agency; the latter should be flexible to accept changes to the initial plans;

· PIM - like every monitoring process - requires time for reflection; although it may save time by avoiding useless action, many organizations feel they cannot bear this initial investment in monitonng.
Eberhard Gohl