The main purpose of identifying constraints is to consider alternative courses of work, counter measures, and proper strategies for better management.
In many developing countries, budgetary constraints are often very serious. The common phenomenon is an absolute insufficiency of funds. Another kind of constraint is the uncertainty of forthcoming funds even when the budget has been approved. It is not unusual that field workers start work, sign agreements, promise subsidies to farmers in order to complete a seasonal task, yet they have to wait embarrassingly to get the needed funds. It is also not uncommon that funds allocated for watershed work are diverted for unrelated fields.
These constraints can be both discouraging and damaging. Planners, therefore, should identify them with other problems during the planning stage and make every effort to ensure necessary budgeting and proper flow and use of funds.
This is probably the most important constraint of all. A lack of funds can be solved by getting loans or grants from aid agencies or banks but work has to be done by people, especially people in the field.
Without properly trained technical staff, any project will fail. To identify the needs of technical staff, the following factors must be considered:
- Numbers, levels, basic qualifications and sources of staff.
- Training needs including type of training and time schedule.
- Incentive needs for field staff especially for those stationed in remote areas.
Watershed work is often labour intensive e.g. afforestation, terracing, gully control, etc. Although there may be idle hands in the uplands, they are often difficult to find at the needed time. Temporary migration to do a seasonal job such as cutting sugarcane, picking coffee beans or working at factories may cause labour shortages in upland watershed areas. Identifying such constraints will help to design implementation schedules and the establishment of realistic goals for the project.
In developing countries it is not unusual to see that many of the best trained technicians are kept in the office and do little field work due to lack of vehicles, per diem, or necessary equipment. This is a genuine waste of time and precious human resources. Watershed work is a field-oriented task. There is no substitute for field work regardless of how well the plan is prepared.
The lack of vehicles in many countries has greatly hampered work progress in the field. It is very difficult to transport instruments such as surveying levels and rods by bus or by other means of public transport. Besides, many upland watershed may have no public transport. Unless the proposed project can provide sufficient vehicles, ensure that most of them are stationed in the field, and can make provisions for proper use and maintenance, this will be always a serious constraint.
In addition to vehicles, the proposed project should provide for sufficient per diem and travel expenses. If equipment, vehicles and instruments are to be imported from abroad, advance planning is necessary often, a project is delayed simply because vehicles and equipment have not yet arrived.
Watershed management is a relatively new field in most developing countries. Few universities or colleges offer formal training in this subject, and research is also in its early stages. Therefore, technical information is always lacking.
If there are books or publications available, they are often written in foreign languages and contain information related to a different set of environmental conditions. For instance, watershed experiment results have been largely obtained from temperate zones whereas most developing countries are situated in the tropics and subtropics. Transfer of technology is a serious constraint and should be considered early in the planning stage.
As emphasized before, farmers' participation is a key to success in most of the watershed projects in developing countries where uplands are heavily populated with small farmers.
From a government point of view, there may be no reason to believe that farmers will not participate in a project if there are sufficient resources to help them. However, this may be over optimistic. The farmers themselves usually face many constraints which hamper them from participating in such a project, for example:
- They may not sufficiently comprehend the objectives of watershed management. They may feel that the government is asking them to protect the watershed for the benefit of others (downstream people).
- Traditional practices, for example, shifting or slash and burn cultivation, may not easily be changed over a short period.
- A conservative attitude may tend to resist any innovative or drastic measures.
- Shortages of labour and capital may restrict them to participate in any improvement task.
- Their economic status may not allow them to take any risks.
- They may be more interested in getting quick returns from their lands than in conserving soils for future use.
Whatever the constraints, the planners should identify them clearly with the help of socio-economic surveys, rapid rural appraisal, etc. Solutions or strategies should be sought and necessary arrangements be made to alleviate these problems.
Serious policy constraints on land use and management should be brought to the attention of the government. For instance, lack of policy on encouragement or incentives for proper land use will result in difficulties in the land use adjustment previously described. Conflicting policy on use and management of various resources in a watershed may make implementation of watershed plans difficult. This with other institutional constraints should be well identified.
Management alternatives should be studied and prepared during the planning stage in order to:
- Provide alternative courses of action.
- Keep plans flexible to cope with unforeseeable changes.
- Give government an unbiased look at the problems and their solutions
The best time to consider alternatives is when the field survey data are being gathered and analysed and the preliminary or interim report is being written.
Whether there are any better alternatives than the proposed work in terms of cost and effect is always a challenge to planners. Such alternatives may include a different approach, different kinds of work, changes of time schedule, location, etc.
If time permits, these alternatives should be evaluated systematically. The objective is to see whether or not a proposed change will yield increased benefits which are greater than increased costs, or the same benefits with reduced costs. For instance, for land protection and erosion control on steep slopes, allowing voluntary vegetation to grow may be the alternative to reforestation in the humid tropics. The latter will usually cost more and, if unsuccessful, will cause more erosion.
Research which identifies ways in which better results or lower costs can be achieved may support the adoption of technical alternatives. For instance, in soil conservation work, hillside ditches, a series of narrow and discontinuous benches, have been effective in erosion control (reducing erosion about 80 percent), requiring only one-fifth of the investment compared to bench terraces (which reduce erosion 90 to 95 percent). Unless farmers contemplate irrigation and mechanization which necessitate bench terraces, hillside ditches can be a valid technical alternative in protecting cultivated slopes.
As discussed earlier, budgetary constraints are one of the major obstacles of adequate planning and successful implementation of watershed projects in developing countries. Most governments are interested more in rapid increases in production, earning foreign exchanges, and developing industry and cities than in protection of upland watersheds. Some alternative budgetary solutions that link watershed work with other development efforts are suggested below:
- A small percentage of funds from major construction or development projects in the watershed such as reservoirs, mountain highways, forest roads, mining, and housing development, can be allocated for protection purpose, especially for those activities which cause instability of watershed slopes.
- A portion of the earning from export crops such as coffee, banana, tea, pineapple, citrus, etc., which are grown on the slopes of upland watersheds and which need soil conservation treatment can be earmarked for protection purposes.
- Small fees can be added to the utility bills of dwellers in cities or towns which benefit from upstream watershed protection. The money can be directly distributed as incentives to the upland farmers who adopt prescribed conservation measures or used for watershed protection activities.
- Watershed or conservation districts may be established in some developing countries and fees and grants can be collected for watershed protection and improvement.
All the above-mentioned alternative sources need government policy or legislative support. However, because they are linked to other important development efforts, governments may be more likely to grant support in this manner than budgets exclusively for watershed protection.
Whether or not farmers should be given material incentives (in addition to technical assistance) to adopt watershed conservation measures is a question which should receive much attention.
On the one hand, people realize that upland farmers are usually poor and should not bear the full cost of erosion control which will accrue benefits to others, e.g. reducing sedimentation and flood damages downstream. On the other hand, poor developing countries often cannot afford large expenses in the form of subsidies. Furthermore, farmers may develop a dependence on government handouts. Proper education may be more effective in the long run.
There is no easy answer to this dilemma. In general, some incentives are needed until farmers are convinced of the real benefits of such work (e.g. increased production and income). The length of time before these incentives can be reduced or eliminated will depend on extension efforts and farmers' income conditions.
There are many alternatives regarding the types of incentive and how they can be offered:
- Cash subsidies are relatively easy to handle and can be distributed during and after the completion of the prescribed work. Further decisions, however, should still be made on appropriate rates for each type of work; too much or too little will affect the outcome. Another important decision must be made on whether subsidies should be given for maintenance work and if so, for how long?
- Sometimes, to avoid misuse of cash, food, fertilizers and tools can be given. Payment in kind instead of cash, however, creates problems of purchasing, storage, transportation, and farmers' preference. It, therefore, adds burdens to the administration as well as to field officers unless such service is already available (i.e. under FAO World Food Programme).
- The government may directly hire crews to do some of the work of a more technical nature as incentives, e.g. waterways and gully structures on private farms. The potential problem is that when the local farmer does not participate in the work from the beginning he or she may assume that the government will be permanently responsible and therefore pay no attention to their maintenance.
- Exemption of tax on property and income can also be used as incentives. Adoption of this method requires an in-depth study in collaboration with the land and tax authorities to determine the proper criteria and period.
- Supervised credit or low interest loans with a reasonable grace period can also be used as incentive or as additional help to farmers. The effectiveness of these however, depends on the willingness of the farmers to incur debts, their capabilities to repay and whether they are qualified for the credit or loans.
- Other direct or indirect incentives including marketing and transportation arrangements, price support, and improvement of community amenities can also be considered.
Even if incentives are given, extension or education efforts cannot be allowed to idle. Short-term incentives may be used to boost farmers' enthusiasm and their participation in the beginning, but the success of any watershed project depends on the farmers' real understanding and their continuing support.
One important consideration facing any planner is whether the watershed needs a project to be carried out in a definitive time frame or needs a continuous permanent programme. If, for the time being, a project is preferable, what kind of follow-up plan is needed?
In many developing countries, watershed projects are supported by international funds over a period of several years. All too often, however, efforts are discontinued at the end of the project term and a new project with different funding is started somewhere else. This kind of "artificial injection" without continuity may cause negative effect. Discontinuity will not only damage government credibility and farmers' trust but also cause non-maintenance of roads, plantations, structures, etc., which, once failed, may induce more damage than before. Therefore, it is the managers' or planners' responsibility to explain and convince the authorities the need for a long-term approach to watershed management. If a foreign-aid project is proposed for the initial stage, they should also plan government follow-up activities and include the required long-term commitment in the proposed plan.
Each country has its own problems and own conditions. Therefore, the following strategies are only for general reference.
Field implementation in developing countries is often hampered by many constraints. Strategies for strengthening field implementation which should be considered during the planning stages include:
- Establishment of sufficient field offices at strategic locations for accommodating staff working in the field. Necessary amenities should be provided so that the staff will not suffer when they are dispatched to the field.
- Provision of incentives such as special allowances (or hardship allowance), fellowships and better career opportunities should be made to field staff in order to encourage on-going work.
- Special achievement allowances are offered by many countries. The allowance is either given annually according to areas treated in conservation extension or extra per diem is paid according to the progress of work done in the field.
- Vehicles and equipment should be provided as needed. Field work should receive priority in allocation of vehicles and any abusive use should be prohibited.
- Coordination among various agencies should be ensured by better liaison and division of labour. Any conflicts or duplication of duties should be addressed and corrected in the shortest possible time.
- Budget funds and supporting services from head offices should be streamlined to back up the field operations.
- A field inspection, evaluation, and reporting system should be established at headquarters or regional offices to supervise and control the progress of work.
Transfer of technology is usually needed in watershed projects including information and experience from foreign countries, from other regions of the same country, as well as from technicians to the farmers.
For information collection, transfer and monitoring, a proper unit or post should be established to perform the following duties:
- Directly collect information and data from selected foreign institutions and translate or outline the ones having immediate interest.
- Liaise between national institutions on exchanges of information and data on watershed management.
- Systematically establish a data base for the use of technicians and farmers.
Foreign experts can be hired if needed and if there are resources to employ them. Fellowship abroad should also be considered. After returning, their final reports should be distributed and discussed among staff concerned. Seminars, workshops and training courses should be scheduled as part of the proposed watershed project. Through these activities, international experts, local specialists and returned fellows can share their knowledge and experience with others.
In order to transfer information and experience to farmers, result or process demonstrations on both public and private lands should be emphasized. Unless farmers can read, extension pamphlets may not have much use in upland watersheds. Practical training of farmers' leaders or contact farmers including visiting tours is very helpful because farmers usually trust neighbours more than outsiders.
It is not unusual that a project or programme stops short of completion because of over-spending or because the original budget is insufficient to cover increased costs.
Although outside factors such as inflation, devaluation, or increases in minimum wages are difficult to control, the planners should prepare strategies to deal with these situations, should they occur. Some strategies are:
- Include an inflation factor in the cost estimates.
- Set up contingency funds in the project for unforeseeable future expenses.
- Exercise strict control of expenditures.
- Order or purchase equipment, vehicles, or material promptly as soon as the funds are approved.
- Endeavour to reduce costs through improved work efficiency and other means.
- Try alternative technology through research or field experiments to achieve the same or better results at less expenses.
Farmers' participation in protecting and developing watershed lands is a key to success.
Many strategies should be considered in order to ensure farmers' participation on a continuing basis. The following strategies are provided as examples:
- At the beginning of the project, small demonstration plots should be established in sufficient numbers on private as well as public lands to show the real benefits of the planned improvements, e.g. conservation farming.
- An intensive education and extension campaign should follow, using the results of the demonstration plots and experience of the farmers who participated in the demonstrations.
- If needed, a financial incentive programme (subsidies and/or credits) should be ready to help those farmers who are ready to participate in the proposed scheme.
- A technical assistance programme should also be available to whoever wants to join the watershed project. This is particularly important. Once interest is generated among the farmers there must be a programme to help them to plan and start the work; otherwise their enthusiasm will soon fade.
- A special effort should be made to organize interested farmers into neighbourhood self-help groups. The leader of each group can be designated as the contact farmer. He will receive intensive training and, if possible, partial wages from the project and will act as a bridge between the government and the local communities. He will also share his training with the others, and thus supplement the usually insufficient agents and over-worked extension service.
- A regular follow-up and inspection system should be established to help the farmers in maintenance, cropping and marketing activities, etc.
Maintenance is an extremely important part of watershed work but it is often neglected, with a resultant decrease in efficiency and increase in damage and waste. Strategies for proper maintenance should be carefully considered when the project is formulated.
On public lands and for public work such as reforestation, roads and check dams, budget provisions should be made for routine maintenance by government hired labourers. For watershed conservation work on private lands, a small incentive or a portion of the subsidies should be given for maintenance until the structures are stabilized or until plantations are established. An annual competition with small awards is another way to encourage farmers to continue proper maintenance. A sound inspection system should be established to oversee the maintenance activities.
Experience in some countries has shown that farmers, for the sake of cash subsidies, undertook ambitious soil conservation or tree planting work which they could not maintain. To avoid this kind of mishap, cautions should be taken as suggested below:
- For planners, a realistic target for protecting and treating farmers' lands according to their capabilities will be more fruitful than an ambitious one.
- For field officers, proper maintenance inspection should be considered as one of their major responsibilities.
- For farmers, treating or planting more lands than they can maintain should be realized as a waste of energy and time.
As mentioned earlier, for cultivable land after conservation treatment, follow-up or parallel services such as cropping, credit and/or marketing arrangements are extremely important. If the land remains unused or idle, for whatever the reason, the conservation structures or any improvement measures will usually not be maintained.