Updated: Jan 7, 2021
Today was the first day of work, and I had a few meetings. I feel like I've suddenly been brought back to reality. In one of the meetings, I was asked to give three reasons "why a livelihood project would fail".
At that meeting, I answered as follows:
A project focuses on the wrong people first.
A project thinks they only need to do training.
A project underestimates the need for infrastructure.
The livelihood projects range from those that involve all aspects of life to those that introduce simple businesses, and this time I answered about the latter.
Livelihood projects target poor farmers, but they fail if they target the poorest groups first. One of the reasons why the poorest group is poor is because they didn't have the capacity to do business in the first place; the poorest people need more fundamental support and don't want to borrow money to set up a business, for example. They would use the borrowed money to buy bread for tomorrow. To run a business, you will need some simple accounting knowledge, but you will not be able to plan without basic literacy and math knowledge. So, in our livelihood projects, we start with the people who seem to have the most hope, even in the poorest areas. That's what we call the champion approach. These champions are able to see the vision that their lives will improve. People who are living in poverty can't see that vision. So if we can make these champions successful, we can show our livelihood projects' success to other poor people. For example, when I was an expert at JICA, I saw a village that had moved from rice to cocoa farming. Obviously, the cocoa farmer's house was bigger and more beautiful. When I returned to the village a few years later, I found that many more farmers had become cocoa farmers, and maybe 50% of the crops had been converted to cacao.
One of our chocolate package
These days, I don't think too many international projects think that all they have to do is provide education and training to the poor. But there are still projects that focus on training. In agricultural training I visited before, only 5% of the farmers continued to use the skills they received. This low retention rate is because even after learning the skills, they do not know how to use them. For example, when cocoa beans are fermented, the international price increases by 40%. But how can a farmer in the middle of nowhere go and sell his product to that high-end cocoa market? In fact, I have seen the wooden boxes used for fermenting cocoa beans being used as nesting boxes for chickens. To be really honest, this kind of training for the poor is not the most advanced technology; it may be a technology that already exists in the area. So, if you can show them that the training will improve their lives, they will learn it on their own without having to go through a huge training program.
Showing out PVC biogs before the pandemic year!
The third reason is that we neglect the physical infrastructure. Specifically, roads and energy. You can't do a project that requires energy where there is no energy, can you? We can't unload our crops to the market in a stable manner if we don't have access to trucks. There was a time when we could not provide our coffee from Flores Island for about four months. The village's main road was cut off due to flooding, and the coffee beans could not be shipped. This means that the farmer group cannot work with the prominent coffee businessmen who promise a stable supply. We installed a biogas system in the same village, but we did not install the conventional biogas system. Conventional biogas plants need to carry a lot of cement and blocks, so they need small pickups. With this in mind, we have created a biogas system made of light PVC bags. This way, we can introduce biogas in a rural village as long as there is a road that a scooter can travel.
Let me summarize the three reasons why livelihood projects fail by paraphrasing. They neglect that a certain level of education and ability is required to do business and start the project targeting the poorest because it wants to help the poorest. Training is a preliminary step to doing business, and the poor do not know how to use the skills they have learned because they have not been introduced to the market to start a real business. In ODA projects, there are times when the emphasis is on the "soft" aspects, such as human capacity, and times when the focus is on the "hard" aspects, such as infrastructure. However, in the end, unless both are available, the project will not be successful.
Not particularly read it but I like this scene ;-)