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close this bookThe Courier N 140 - July - Aug 1993 - Dossier: National Minorities - Country Reports: Dominica, Mozambique (EC Courier, 1993, 96 p.)
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View the documentDevelopment from a different angle

Development from a different angle

Trainees in the Directorate-General for Development decided to organise their own study trip to one of the ACP countries, the first venture of this kind. They went to Senegal. They describe their impressions, particularly of the Community cooperation projects and programmes there, in this article.

In November 1992, trainees in DG VIII who were anxious to get firsthand knowledge of the dynamics of cooperation between the ACP States and the Commission of the European Communities got together and formed a Study Trip to Senegal Committee. Thus nine young graduates of different nationalities (German, Austrian, Belgian, British and Italian) and with different training (in agriculture, economics, law, political science and development science) behind them were able to go out to Senegal to supplement the training they had received in the various units of the directorate. The range of subjects which the group covered was an important factor when it came to approaching and analysing projects. In the space of 30 years, Senegal has forged close links with the EC and, having made full use of all the instruments and financial means which the Lome Convention provides, is a model of cooperation.

Our main concern in the field was to get to the heart of EC cooperation: to financial and technical cooperation. There is just one programme under the 6th EDF, the Podor Region Development Support Programme, which covers agriculture, rural development, infrastructure, microprojects, SMEs, the protection of the natural environment, women, health and village water engineering. A visit to Podor and all these integrated schemes provided much food for thought.

Farming is the main activity there and the EDF is behind the various types of hydro-agricultural improvements which have been made to meet the national indicative programme aims of achieving self-sufficiency in food and combating desertification. Technically speaking, irrigated agriculture has been a success, but it is a different story as far as the people themselves are concerned, for the peasant tradition is to organise things on a far smaller scale and the farmers have found management difficult in this case.

Rice, a staple imported (cheaply, in the form of broken rice) from South East Asia, is now grown in the Senegal River Valley. Agriculture in this northern part of the country could not always be relied on, but there was considerable hydraulic potential (the Diama and Manantali dams), so hydro-agricultural improvements were made and intensive ricegrowing introduced, rice, a potentially high-yield product which is suitable for irrigation, being seen as the crop to make the investment a paying proposition and ensure self-sufficiency in food. But rice is not without its problems. For example, it gradually depletes the soil, makes the farmer dependent on input and, with individual ownership, undermines traditional village solidarity. There are difficulties with marketing and price fixing too.

Rice-growing is in fact a major problem in Senegal. As Mr A. Vanhaeverbeke, the Head of the EC Delegation there, told us, 'anyone who finds an alternative to rice will get the first Nobel Development Prize.'

The Community has recently financed PREMINA, a project designed to restore the natural environment, combating deforestation by using trees (eucalyptus and prosepis) as windbreaks on hydro-agricultural developments. Bearing in mind all the advantages, this tree planting is a highly essential and profitable undertaking, but windbreaks spell constraints for the farmers, who are not ready for them. The most important thing, we think, is to run education and training schemes to make the local population realise how important the environment is to sustainable development.

Two other parts of the programme which attracted us particularly were those involving SMEs and microprojects. One has a commercial and one a social bias and they complement each other and are very popular, because they are localised, autonomous and flexible and the assistance and credit they provide meet a considerable demand. They have also rekindled the Senegalese spirit of enterprise, which had faded because such structures were wanting.

A visit to a health post (a kind of village pharmacy, run by a nurse) and a health centre (a kind of hospital, staffed with doctors and midwives) gave us the opportunity to see the genuine improvements which have been made in the health sector -many of which are due to active involvement of villagers on the Health Committees. The number of patients has gone up and medicines are within easier reach.

One big problem is still that there is not enough money to appoint more doctors.

Traditional doctors (medicine men and healers) are important too, we saw, and modern medicine and traditional medicine usefully complement each other.

It was very clear that women have an important part to play in all these areas of activity. Gone are the days when they were willing to be anonymous, for now they want to make an active contribution to development and they are creating jobs of their own alongside all their traditional duties. We were able to join in some of their work in the market garden, the health post and the literacy hut and see how keen these women are to be involved in development projects.

This is why it is important for project design to take account of what women do in addition to their traditional duties.

Infrastructure and technology are not the whole story and so we also looked at the activities of the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that work alongside those engaged in bilateral and multilateral cooperation. The first thing we noticed was that NGOs from the North are heavily represented, either as consultants of countries or communities which are ploughing in funds or as partners of local NGOs. The only place where they are not so common is in the inhospitable region of Fatick and the simple reason for this is that NGOs, like all funders, are hesitant to invest where the prospect of obtaining positive results is rather limited. Were it not for ARAF, the Fatick Farmers Regional Association, the area would have no international support at all.

This merely confirms the all-important role of the local NGOs as reflectors of the keenness of farmers and fishermen not only to take a direct hand in improving their own lot, but also to be better represented politically. The time of scattered village associations is past and departmental, regional and national associations are taking over, particularly in the farming community. The purpose of FONGS, the Federation of NGOs of Senegal, is to improve the operation of its 24 regional and departmental peasant associations and to make sure that the voice of the farmers is heard on the national political scene. In particular, it has taken shares in the Senegal's National Agricultural Credit Bank (CNCAS).

So village organizations are not just emerging in this country. They are there, striving to suggest ways of coping with the terrible evils of hunger, disease, a deteriorating environment, poverty and marginalisation and gradually getting organised nationally to represent a political (counter) power. Initially, it was the work of one or two intellectual activists from the rural milieu, but now the associations are a genuine reflection of what the farming community wants. Let us hope that all this leads to a higher standard of living in rural areas and ensures that the peasant populations take more responsibility for their own future.

By the end of our trip, we had all realised that development cooperation is complex and that the human factor is the first thing to make it so. Cooperation brings two groups from different cultures face to face-the devisers, designers and implementers from the West, who are anxious to help raise the standard of living of people in the Third World, and the recipients, who are mainly concerned with their personal survival or the betterment of their families. Sometimes there are misunderstandings between these groups and this is something which experience alone can help avoid.

Then there is the innate complexity of development projects. Plans such as those relating to the Podor HydroAgricultural Developments are influenced by a whole series of factors, many of them involving far more than the recipients. In the case of Podor, the fixing of the purchase price of rice and the marketing of vegetables and cereals depend on national State measures based on various considerations, one of which is the situation of the farmers in that region.

Consultation of the recipients during the design and planning of these projects is limited and they are only really involved in the actual implementation (theory and practice).

So there is a whole series of factors affecting the way the projects develop which have nothing to do with the recipients. Some of them have to do with national politics and others with international politics (development cooperation, international trade and diplomacy) -which of course does not make things easier.

The funders' hands are not always clean here either. When it comes to fishing agreements, there are countries doing what amounts to buying Senegal's deep waters and the country's artisanal fishermen are getting nothing out of it. Senegal is strapped for cash and delighted with fresh money and foreign States are putting domestic and trade policy before cooperation.

Given all the complexity and contradictions, the best projects would seem to be small ones which involve few people other than the recipients themselves. They involve virtually no central State intervention or extra-developmental factors and the only complications are human ones-but the long-term success of such projects still depends on measures taken by the State.

The complexity of development cooperation gives food for thought, but is no reason not to act. Quite the opposite. Remembering the complexity and the framework in which we are working, we must keep our sights set on Africa and do what common sense dictates.