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close this bookThe Courier N 126 - March - April 1991 - Dossier: AIDS - The Big Threat / Country Report: Burkina Faso (EC Courier, 1991, 96 p.)
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View the documentFood aid for Liberian refugees - tailored to the environment
View the documentCooperation small-scale energy projects in the ACP States

Food aid for Liberian refugees - tailored to the environment

by Elisabeth TISON

When food aid for the Liberian refugees was assessed to see what was required and how it should be provided in 1991, the WFP (the World Food Programme) and the UNHCR (UN High Commissioner for Refugees) invited a representative of the Commission and a representative of MSF (Mcins sans Frontis) to join a mission to the three main host countries - Sierra Leone, Guinea and Cd’Ivoire-in November 1990. The 1 2-day visit involved driving more than 3000 km to visit ports and warehouses in the host villages and distribution sites along the Liberian frontier from Freetown to Zimmi in Sierra Leone, from Conakry to the forests of Guinea and from Danano San Pedro in Cd’lvoire.

There were 120 000 refugees in January of last year, but by November, 700 000 had fled the fighting-and famine, one of the prime consequences of war-and had gone to Liberia’s three immediate neighbours.

The locals welcomed the refugees warmly from the start, housing them in their homes and districts and villages and sharing everything. The first arrivals came after good harvests, when resources were available, but when people flooded in during the tiding-over period, things became difficult for both the refugees and the host population, which had already shared out all it had.

The international community - donors, UN agencies and NGOs - intervened in January. By May, the mass of new arrivals forced the host authorities to appeal for huge amounts of international aid and the European Community, which had been providing emergency and food aid sinœ the beginning of the year, also stepped up its contributions, with more food aid going through the WFP, the UNHCR, LICROSS (the Red Cross and Red Crescent League), new emergency medical aid. financing for transport infrastructure and product storage (see box).

Hosting the refugees-no camps

At first sight, there is nothing unusual about Zimmi in Sierra Leone or Yomou in Guinea or Tabou in Cd’Ivoire. There are lots of people about, certainly, and plenty going on, but you don’t know who are refugees-they look very like the locals-until you ask who comes from Liberia. This is quite unlike the sorry situations that are so frequent, alas, in other parts of the world, for in this case, the three host countries and their people go out of their way to avoid putting refugees in camps. Liberian refugees are housed in existing dwellings. They come from various regions along the Liberian frontier and they are housed in homes and settled in districts and villages according to their ethnic and family origin. In Cd’lvoire, in particular, refugees are registered with the heads of communities and villages and then with the sub-prefects and prefects before being taken under the wing of a tutor in the host village. Social origin is also an important consideration when they are placed.

In Sierra Leone and Guinea, peasants, the bulk of the refugee population, have the opportunity to rent land temporarily, while in Cd’Ivoire, some refugees from Tabou work on the oil palm plantations and others on the land, helping their hosts grow and harvest crops. Small businesses and taxi firms have sprung up all over the town of NzkorGuinea).

The new arrival will ultimately notice odd things nonetheless-a crowd of new refugees registering before they are settled in DananCd’lvoire), for example, an impressive number of Liberian-registered taxis in NzrorGuinea) and groups of people with transistors pressed to their ears, tuning in to news on the Liberian situation, in Pelah. And above all, not just houses going up in Gbaa and Thuo, but canvas shelters and tents as well in these frontier towns where the population has swollen to three or four times its former size. Even with the best of intentions, it is not possible to go on housing new arrivals in existing accommodation. There comes a time when new dwellings are needed to cope with the continual influx of people and, until proper houses can be built, tents are inevitable.

Delivery and distribution - involving the host populations

One feature of the food various partners are involved,with, above all, the host populations shouldering responsibility for looking after and distributing the relief.

The WFP and the UNHCR deal with the domestic transport of the food aid from the donors to the central and regional warehouses and LICROSS (in Sierra Leone and Cd’lvoire) and ADRA, (the Adventist Development Relief Agency in Guinea) then take over at these delivery points and ensure secondary transport to the refugee sites. Final distribution is in the hands of the national Red Cross organizations, with the help of the WFP and the UNHCR.

In Cd’Ivoire especially, the Red Cross has set up an exemplary delivery and distribution system which fully involves the host populations and puts responsibility on the heads of villages and communities. Ivorian Red Cross officials drop off sacks of food from trucks at the entrance to the villages and districts between Danannd the distribution sites and the villagers then take over storage of the products and organise distribution to the refugees-under the responsibility of the village chief and the refugees’ representative.

Villagers and refugees know exactly what rations are to be distributed and what products are available-to the point where villagers are sometimes heard to complain, not about the aid handed out to refugees in their villages, but about not yet having received products already supplied somewhere else.

The host communities’ involvement and responsibilities have precluded the need for ration cards-and prevented the abuse that goes with them, as, when food is distributed, the villagers and the refugees are able to see for themselves exactly who needs how much of what.

Targeted distribution in a favourable environment

Another aspect of this particular refugee situation is that the natural environment in the border regions near Liberia, where most of the recipients are massed, is a particularly good one and everything grows there. There are manioc, bananas, paw-paws and mangoes in profusion. Although there is every justification for providing relief and assistance for refugees, the level and means of food aid have to be properly defined and the donors, the UN and the partners in the field (the NGOs) need to take the environment into account and avoid the dependency syndrome of assistance for assistance’s sake. The known number of refugees is not necessarily the number who need assistance and those who do need assistance do not all need to be assisted to the same degree. Refugees who have integrated in a favourable rural environment and are already working the land are less vulnerable than new arrivals who have had nothing to eat for a long time. Tradesmen and taxi-drivers in NzkorGuinea) are more self-sufficient than new arrivals in Thuo, some of whom, it was found in November, have beri-beri.

The overall food situation of the refugees was satisfactory in November, being comparable to that of the host populations, and targeted distribution and a change in the food ration were recommended, with vulnerable groups (in the host population too, if necessary) receiving more. In the hospitals where MSF provides intensive care and highly nutritious food rations, it treats all undernourished children equally’ whether they come from refugee or local families.

However. people (refugees or not) with incomes do not need relief rations, particularly since the local markets are full of food crying out to be bought.

In a favourable environment, it is important wherever possible to avoid scattering aid, giving a little bit to everyone and finding that those who do not need so much, barter or sell it while the health of those who are hungry suffers. Distribution has to be targeted to reflect needs and reach and assist the most vulnerable sections of the population.

Emergency aid

Rich farming areas suitable for local purchasing

The host regions are rich in natural resources and agricultural potential and all three countries have made an effort to encourage the production of particular products, especially rice and palm oil, with encouraging results.

Assistance has to take these long-term efforts into account and should in no way counter them (by mistake or on grounds of facility), for ultimately both locals and refugees will suffer from schemes which take no notice of the economic environment in which they are run.

Between harvests, after all the local resources have been distributed, food imports are justified, but, later on, it would be extremely dangerous to import massive amounts of rice and palm oil to areas which produce them, particularly at harvest time when there are supplies on the local market.

Local supplies must be found wherever possible. The WFP, for example, bought palm oil with Community funds in Cd’lvoire and the Community recommended local rice purchasing in the forests of Guinea so as to sustain prices when a record paddy harvest was announced.

Local purchasing schemes should be encouraged, but geared to the particular country or region and to the particular product. There is no point in sending prices sky-high or creating distortions on the market and the idea should be to keep them at a level which will encourage the producers to go on producing. In the long run, with local purchasing making for greater regularity of distribution, the host population will benefit as much as the refugees.

The three host countries also grow other things which are popular with the Liberians, but in some cases, the quantities produced are too small to go round and, in others, the quality and the transport facilities are such that prudence is called for.

There is fish off the coast, but keeping it fresh during transport to the distribution point is a problem. The UNHCR was to look into the availability of beans and groundnuts (a high-calorie food normally part of the refugees’ diet) in the three host countries and in the region.

Food aid is development aid

More than ever before, the food aid provided for the Liberian refugees should be integrated into the environment. The principle of food aid, to encourage the drive for self sufficiency in food, comes into its own here.

Relief should be designed in the short and the medium term with a view to food security in the long term. It should make the refugees not dependent, but self sufficient in food, in the same way as the host population and the neighbours- which is why local production and local and regional trade have to be taken into account.

Some of the Liberian refugees will stay in the host countries, and production in the rural areas where they have settled must be encouraged if they are to integrate properly. Assistance for the host populations, who have been so generous, does not necessarily have to be in the form of food aid and could well involve encouraging them to find outlets for their own production. Farm tools and seed could be distributed to locals and refugees alike and roads maintained... a series of schemes outside the framework of food aid but allied to it in being development-related.


Cooperation small-scale energy projects in the ACP States


Events in the Gulf and recent oil price fluctuations are, once again, concentrating the minds of many on the problems of energy security. Dependence on oil renders the economies of many countries highly vulnerable to external factors and developing states in particular tend to suffer disproportionately from the instability which affects this sector. Although interest in alternative energy sources tends to increase when oil prices rise and to diminish when they fall, there is a growing underlying recognition that diversification of energy supplies can help to cushion national economies from the vagaries which have plagued the oil market over the last two decades.

In the field of EC-ACP cooperation, considerable efforts have been devoted, under successive Lomonventions, to small-scale projects designed to develop and exploit locally available energy resources. While it is clearly not possible, in the present stage of technological development, to find non-oil substitutes to meet the full range of energy needs, the uncertainty in the oil markets, combined with growing environmental concerns, point to a continuing need for such projects. In this article, Mr Juan Arteagoitia describes how the EC, in its cooperative arrangements with the ACP states, has tackled the question of how to develop ‘small energy resources’ with particular emphasis on the Sahel region.

The EC is at present and has, in the past, been involved in the financing of a substantial number of energy projects throughout the developing world, either at country or at regional level.

From 1976 to 1986, it supported approximately 100 small energy resources projects in developing countries. This represented about 11 % of the total energy related disbursements for development purposes during that period.

Under the Lomonventions, an indicative programme is negotiated with each country or region covered by the agreement in question. These programmes set out the global amount of money granted to the country or region, the percentage of the total earmarked for each priority (concentration) sector and the percentage which is left for other activities.

The relative importance given by the ACP countries to the energy sector in relation to other areas can be seen by analysing the sectoral distribution of funds in the Lomonventions. In Lom11, energy was considered a priority sector in only two of the 66 countries and seven regions which signed the agreement. However, in another ten countries and three regions, energy projects were specific components of concentration sectors. In a further six countries, energy activities are mentioned even though they are outside the concentration sectors. Finally, many small energy activities were hidden under headings such as rural development, water supply, control of desertification, health infrastructure and food security.

Programme selection

When selecting small energy programmes, the Commission makes a clear distinction between the development problem and the energy technologies problem. Failures have often occurred when trying to implement apparently successful technologies without giving enough consideration to the development aspect.

It is also the case that small energy projects compete for funds, not only with other forms. c{. energies (conventional sources) but also with programmes for food supply, infrastructures, health, education etc. At a given time or place, other projects may offer prospects of higher returns from the development point of view, and when this happens, they will be accorded higher priority.

A further element which has to be taken into account is that the use of energy is not an end in itself and that in most developing countries. its demand stems specifically from the desire to satisfy the most basic needs and that it usually has a multisectoral impact. Thus, adequate consideration should be given to the various non-energy related parameters in both the preparatory analysis and the subsequent field implementation.

Specifically, in the pre-feasibility and feasibility studies, as well as in all the concomitant information relating to the selection and approval of a programme or project, the following criteria are systematically used.

-The situation of the programme or project in relation to the national or regional plant and in relation to the Community’s energy policy framework;

-The economic and financial feasibility (cost-benefit analysis, internal rate of return);

-The political, financial and technical risks involved in the initiative;

-The degree of development of the country;

-The environmental impact, including control of desertification;

-The interest of the local population, local government or other donors in co-financing the project;

-The site location (rural, semi-rural, urban)

-The social and economic impact in both the short and the long terms on the population segment affected by the project and on the country and region as a whole;

-The relative income level of the population segment affected by the project;

-Links with other interrelated activities;

-Possibilities for better alternative pro jects;

-The energy system configuration (centralised versus decentralised);

-The availability of local resources (sun, rivers, coastal minerals, wind, wood, coconut, organic residues etc.);

-The availability of transport and distribution systems;

-The degree of maturity of the technology proposed, including the necessity to go for a pilot plant or for one of commercial size. In general, the Commission recommends only proven technologies, avoiding installations conceived primarily as experimental plants;

-The current and expected price of imported fuels;

-Possibilities of substitution for imported fuels;

-The social acceptability of the technology and the existence of cultural barriers to its dissemination;

-The capacity to manufacture the equipment, presently or in the near future, and the existence of trading markets for the equipment components;

-The capacity of local communities to manage and maintain the equipment, and their technical assistance needs.

The weight given to each of the above criteria varies according to the specifications of the programme or project proposed. It should also be stressed that under the Lomonventions, it is the recipient countries who decide themselves what projects they want to propose for funding by the EDF.

Support for various technologies

In the small energy projects supported by the Commission, a variety of technologies are currently being tested (pilot plant) or implemented on a commercial basis. These include:

-Biomass (improved woodstoves for houses, schools etc., gasifiers, charcoal conversion, coconut conversion, woodfuel plantations, woodfuel studies, rice husks and rice straws as fuel, steam power systems using wood as fuel);

-Solar (photovoltaics for water pumping, lighting, refrigeration, recharging of batteries, solar drying, solar water heaters);

-Energy substitution (butane gas and kerosene for wood fuel);

-Micro/mini hydro;

-Wind (aerogenerators);

-Energy saving (in diesel power plants, in the electricity network etc);



-Bio-climatic houses.

As a result of a thorough evaluation of various technologies and schemes, the Commission is starting to gain a fairly clear picture of their possibilities in developing countries.

In general, it appears that most of the programmes in the domestic energy sector have been relatively successful, with the exception of gasifiers. It is clear, however, that in order to tackle the woodfuel crisis seriously, the only way will be to aim, at least in urban areas, at substituting energies. In practice, this will mainly involve butane gas, since other technologies, notably photovoltaics, cannot yet be used for such purposes.

Significant small energy programmes currently receiving European Community assistance

Sahel Region: (ECU 34 million)

Solar photovoltaics for water pumping, lighting, refrigeration and recharging of batteries

Sahel Region: (ECU 8.26 million)

Promotion of butane gas as a substitute for wood fuel

Zaire: (ECU 3.3 million)

Solar photovoltaics for lighting and refrigeration in rural health centres

Guyana: (ECU 13.5 million)

Gasifiers using woodehips

Indian Ocean Region: (ECU 1.85 million)

Gasifiers, aerogenerators, solar refrigeration, solar drying, bioclimatic houses. Pilot plant approach

Papua New Guinea: ( ECU 2.7 million)

Mini hydro plant

Pacific Region: (ECU 6.19 million)

Gasifiers, steam power using wood as fuel, coconut conversion, biogas, improved woodstoves, charcoal conversion, solar photovoltaics for lighting and refrigeration, solar water heating, mini hydro, energy conservation. Pilot plant approach.

French Overseas Territories in the Pacific: (ECU 3.18 million)

Photovoltaic lighting and refrigeration


Technical assistance for the dissemination of improved woodstoves


Technical assistance for study on the use of rice husks and rice straws as fuel


Technical assistance for study on the use of micro/mini hydra plants, improved woodstoves and energy saving

Southern Africa region:

Technical assistance for energy unit and for study on woodfuel problems

Eastern Africa region:

Technical assistance for study on increasing the supply of woodfuel and selecting substitutes for it

Potential for solar power

For various reasons, micro/mini hydro. power has very limited potential at present. On the other hand, solar voltaics, notwithstanding their high price, have clearly been the most successful, primarily because of their high level of social acceptability and ease of maintenance and operation. In addition, photovoltaic technology has the advantage over its competitors that it can be used in most rural areas in developing countries. Hitherto, the problems which have arisen have not related to the technology itself, but rather to factors such as poor systems design (panels which are too small in relation to consumption, poor quality products etc) and to the incorrect location of panels.

The Commission considers that if these failures could be corrected, and especially if sufficient care were to be given to the selection and coordination of the system components, photovoltaics would be both reliable and acceptable. Given that photovoltaic installations require low maintenance and that panels which are already available have the capacity to supply, under acceptable conditions, most of the required energy in many rural areas, they are particularly appropriate for rural development.

In the meantime, and in order to ease existing demand for woodfuel, three ‘classical’ policies continue to be implemented, namely:

-the introduction of woodstoves;

-the dissemination of more efficient technologies for charcoal production and;

-the substitution of woodfuel by alternative energies such as kerosene or butane gas.

Finding suitable substitutes for wood

In relation to woodfuel substitution, we have to take into account the fact that the commercialisation of kerosene may be easier than that of butane gas, but that its calorific capacity and the taste it gives to food sometimes makes it undesirable in many developing countries. On account of this, and as mentioned earlier, the promotion of butane gas, particularly in urban areas, offers the most promising solution to the woodfuel crisis.

The Sahelian region, where woodfuel is by far the predominant source of energy (75 % of total energy consumption and over 90 % of household energy consumption) provides a classic example. Unless strong measures regarding woodfuel consumption are taken immediately, it is inevitable that the deforestation which is currently taking place will continue. This is because the pressure of a growing population will be reflected in an increased need both for agricultural space and for energy.

Given that in the Sahel, kerosene is generally not considered to be suitable because of local cooking habits, the European Community has approved an ECU 8.26 million programme designed to promote butane gas in the region as a substitute for wood. The quantitative objective of the programme is to save some 673 000 tonnes of woodfuel by increasing the consumption of butane from 28 000 tonnes (in 1987) to 66 000 tonnes in 1992 and 92000 tonnes in 1995.

In order to reach this objective, the programme encourages the use of small domestic cookers which will require butane bottles of three or six kilogrammes. At the same time, the programme aims to tackle the current main constraints to the use of butane in the area, namely:

-the weak competitive position (i.e. in price terms) of butane, in relation to woodfuel and charcoal. To change this situation, the tax system affecting the import, transport and distribution of butane gas must be reassessed and the price of woodfuel increased;

-the high initial cost of domestic installations using gas. New credit systems and subsidising schemes are needed here to help in the initial investment;

-the cultural barriers and fears relating to the use of gas. To overcome these problems, cookers need to be adapted to the conditions in the Sahel as well as to the cooking habits of the population. Methods for handling butane gas must also be explained to the population.

Harnessing the power of the Sahelian sun

On account of the large amount of solar radiation available, coupled with the scattered and limited demand for energy, the Sahel has also been long regarded as having the greatest potential for the utilisation of solar power. Little use has been made, however, of this energy source. For example, there are only some 220 solar pumps installed in the region (mostly in Mali).

Encouraged by the positive results shown by photovoltaic technology, which were mentioned earlier, and in order to fill the existing gap, the EC approved an ECU 34 million programme to be implemented throughout the Sahel region, for the supply of water and community services such as light, medical refrigerators and battery charging. The programme involves the installation of 1049 photovoltaic pumping systems of 17 different sizes, with a total power capacity of 1330 kWp (kilowatt peak) and 690 community systems with a total power of 56 kWp. Specifically, the programme sets out to meet the following objectives:

-to reinforce food supply security in rural areas exposed to the risk of droughts by expanding the supply of irrigation water;

-to improve living conditions of rural populations by providing access to drinking water, lighting and battery charging facilities;

-to improve health conditions of rural populations by providing access to lighting and medical refrigeration (vaccines etc) in local health centres;

-to lower the cost of photovoltaic systems through economies of scale, resulting from the large number of units to be produced and the possibilities of product standardisation. This will mean an easier maintenance programme, fewer spare parts, and greater simplicity and sp when repair is needed. In order to guarantee that the design is appropriate, a prototype of each system will be tested at one of the leading European laboratories before its approval.

-to secure the social acceptability of solar systems by familiarising local communities with their use through information campaigns, by making local communities responsible, after adequate training, for the management of the systems and by giving them the financial responsibility for equipment maintenance and depreciation costs.

Finally, in order to avoid the kinds of failure experienced by solar systems in the past (e.g thermodynamic systems), great importance will be attached to the maintenance programmes and to technical monitoring of a sample of systems throughout the life of the equipment.

Continuing the effort

The use of small energy resources raised great expectations in all developing countries, particularly after the UN conference on the subject which was held in Nairobi in 1981. This was primarily because of the potential of such resources to reduce dependence on imported oil products at a time when they were very expensive. In the intervening period, the cost of oil has been considerably lower in real terms although price volatility remains significant, as recent events have shown. When oil is relatively cheap and abundant, the immediate financial pressure is eased but the underlying vulnerability remains. It is for this reason, not to mention the environmental considerations, that we should continue our efforts to further the use of the technologies discussed in this article and to develop the necessary international cooperation.

On the other hand, we are aware that small energy technologies still have significant technical and economic limitations. They are not presently capable of substituting for conventional energies and do not, therefore, offer a simple solution to the energy problems of developing countries. Given their increasing degree of maturity, what they do offer is a valuable complementary source of energy with a growing potential for the future.