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Collaboration between organisations


Too many projects work independently often without letting other projects, or even the Government services, know what they are doing. Workplans and reports are not circulated, and there is no attempt to meet to coordinate activities. The result is that there is often an overlap - projects effectively doing the same work in the same area. At the worst, there may be competition between projects. The local people become confused, and inevitably it is they who suffer.

A number of the projects we have studied have a deliberate policy of collaborating with other institutions. The best example is PATECORE in Burkina Faso, where the project has set up a provincial-level committee for coordination of development activities. PATECORE also provides training for the staff of other projects and Government services.

In the drier zones of Kenya, small non-governmental projects often do not bother to inform the Government what they are planning or what they have achieved. It is therefore good to note that LPDP has forged links with the Government's District Development Committee.

Collaboration between development organisations is essential, to avoid confusing the local people, and to ensure better planning and a more efficient use of resources.



There is a long-standing debate about the use of incentives for development activities! There are those who argue that people should always be paid (with cash, tools or food) because they are poor. On the other hand it is argued that few or no incentives should be given, because incentives tend to make people dependent on help.

In our case studies it is clear that the majority of projects feel that incentives should be given, yet kept to a minimum, and that the emphasis should be on "tools-for-work". In Machakos District in Kenya, the only free inputs are indeed tools - shovels, hoes, pickaxes and so on. Likewise PAF in Burkina Faso recognises that people are genuinely short of tools, and makes hand tools available to village committees for allocation.

None of the projects pays cash for work to be done. Neither is food-for-work used (though LPDP in Kenya has just phased it out as a matter of policy), as it is seen as a disincentive to voluntary participation - in other words people would simply refuse to continue to work without food rations.

Incentives can be very useful to assist people in soil conservation activities. Food-for-work and direct payment should be avoided wherever possible. Tools are a better choice



The debate about mechanisation is similar to the debate about incentives. Is it right to introduce machinery, which may break down and prove impossible to maintain after the project comes to an end? On the other hand is it fair to deny people the use of technology which will make work easier and much faster?


Here we have contrasting views. PATECORE in Burkina Faso argues that "erosion is faster than a donkey cart", and therefore justifies the free provision of lorries to carry stones to make permeable rock dams. PLAE in Mali prefers to encourage people to use donkey carts for the same purpose. They think it preferable that people should rely on their own resources. In Burkina Faso, PAF supplies donkey carts to people who will use them, but has bought a lorry also for situations where stone has to be carried long distances...

This is a difficult debate. The balance of opinion seems to be that mechanisation is best avoided, because of the problems of maintaining the machinery in the future. However, if machinery is used, it should be under certain conditions. For example it should be used only where it is needed, and for a limited period such as during a construction phase.

Despite the obvious advantages of mechanisation there can be serious problems of maintenance after the project comes to an end.

Life of the project

Projects rarely achieve much in three years. Yet three years is a common project life. Usually projects need time to modify their plans according to experience. Three years is no more than an establishment period. To be of real use to the communities served, projects need to have a long-term commitment. But equally they cannot go on for ever! They should plan for an eventual withdrawal when the development processes they have started can continue without project support.

This is the message which comes across from the projects we have looked at. In fact many of the projects are effectively open-ended, and new phases are funded according to requirements. Ten years after PAF started, now that the basic conservation techniques are well understood and have been widely adopted by farmers, the project is considering which direction it should take next.

The life of a project should not be so short that it has no chance to become truly effective. Equally projects should always plan for eventual withdrawal.

Monitoring and evaluation


Development projects in sub-Saharan Africa, whether large or small, are notoriously bad at monitoring, evaluation and adequate reporting. And yet these processes are extremely important. How can we plan for the future if we don't know what has been achieved, and how people have benefited? The lesson from our case studies is that not one of them has a truly satisfactory system of monitoring and evaluation.

Often it is said that techniques are extremely beneficial to farmers - and therefore there is no need to measure the results - crop yields, for example. But if no measurements are made, how can two techniques be compared? And how can you tell if the benefits are greater than the costs?

Even two of the most successful soil and water conservation projects in sub-Saharan Africa have inadequate monitoring and evaluation systems. PAF in Burkina Faso has few data on yields from farmer's fields, and there is some doubt how reliable the figures are. In Kenya, NSWCP admits that it does not yet have enough knowledge of the benefits of terracing on yields and on the soil.

Adequate monitoring and evaluation systems need to be included in every project in order to collect data for analysing the costs and benefits of various techniques.

Rapid benefits for farmers


Each of the main techniques introduced by the projects we have studied has led to rapid benefits for the farmers. This is because the techniques used have been for moisture conservation or water harvesting rather than erosion control. Since rainfall is scarce in most of the project areas, when moisture is conserved, yields are improved. And by conserving moisture- in other words keeping rainfall on the field - soil is automatically conserved as well.



The permeable rock dams of PATECORE in Burkina Faso are a water harvesting technique. Although gullies in the valley bottoms are healed by the dams, it is the spreading of floodwaters over the fields which makes it so attractive to farmers. The fanya-juu terracing under NSWCP in Machakos, Kenya, is a moisture conservation technique. Because rainfall is relatively good here, all that is needed is to hold rainwater where it falls - and yields are improved. Where there is no terracing, runoff carries the rainfall away and plants suffer.

The emphasis on moisture conservation rather than soil conservation has led to rapid benefits in terms of improved crop yields in dry areas. This is popular with farmers!

Reaching the poorest


One lesson which comes from a number of the projects is that the poorest of the poor don't always benefit from project activities. It is of course much easier to help those who can help themselves - those who can make use of the training and incentives that the project supplies. But there may have to be special measures taken to reach the very poorest groups.

However it may not always be a project's policy to assist those groups. For example, LPDP in Turkana District of northern Kenya deliberately aims to help only those who are not totally destitute. The reason is that LPDP has limited resources, and it wishes to concentrate on those who can use the project as a stepping stone back into self-reliance. It is not a relief programme.

PAF in Burkina Faso, on the other hand, does intend to reach the poorest. However there is an indication that some families cannot make use of the project's assistance because of their poverty. They may not, for example, be able to feed a group to work on their fields. PAF tries to overcome this problem by making food loans available through village committees.

Special planning may be required if a project is to reach the poorest of the poor.


3. Planning a soil and water conservation project

Questions to ask and things to remember

Questions to ask and things to remember

How should we go about planning a soil and water conservation project in one of the dry areas of sub-Saharan Africa? How can we be sure that the project will benefit people - and the benefits will last?

There is no easy answer, but based on the lessons drawn from the six case studies, here is a summary of the most important things to remember, and some of the questions we must ask ourselves. Use this as a check list!

First we will look at project organisation and management, and then we will consider technical points.




Participation is the key to a successful project.


Have we got the respect and the cooperation of the local people-the "beneficiaries"?

Are we answering their "felt needs"?

Are we involving them in all stages of planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation?

Training puts skills into the hands of the people.

Training and Motivation

Are we using technology which is appropriate - such as simple surveying instruments?

Are we taking training needs seriously?

Work with existing groups.

Existing Institutions

Are there traditional working groups?

Which local institutions are the strongest?__________

Which institutions could help with planning at the village level?__________

Flexibility is strength.


Does the workplan allow a modification in targets or a change in direction?

Are we ready to evaluate progress and make changes if necessary?

Don't expect dramatic results too quickly.

Life of the Project

Have we planned for a long enough period of project activity?

Is there provision to extend the project if things take off slowly?

Choose incentives with care.


Do we have to use food-for-work?__________

What appropriate tools or other inputs could be used instead?__________

How can we assist people in their work without creating dependence?__________

The poorest are often the hardest to reach

Reaching the Poorest

Is the programme reaching the poorest people?

Can they afford the time or labour to make use of what is being offered?

How can we channel help to them more effectively?__________

Keep records measure your success.

Monitoring and Evaluation

Can we say exactly what the benefits of the programme are?

Is there a plan to take measurements and record useful data?

How can we use the information gathered?__________

Collaborate to avoid confusion.

Collaboration between Organisations

Have we made sufficient contact with other organisations/projects in the area?

Have we discussed the workplan with the Government?

Do we circulate our reports to the right people?




Build on what people already know.

Traditional Systems

Has anybody made a study of local practices?

Are there any traditions of soil and water conservation in the area?

How could such systems (if they exist) be improved?__________

Suitable systems survive with minimum support from outside.

Suitable systems

Are we introducing a technique appropriate to the area

Is it the most appropriate system for the local conditions?

Has it been tested locally by other projects?

Farmers want benefits now!

Rapid Benefits

Does the technique improve productivity or make yields more reliable?

Is it a moisture conservation or water harvesting technique which will help provide the crops with more moisture?

Approach mechanisation with care. Think before you mechanise.


Do we really need machines?

Do the people have the means to maintain them in the future?

What are the alternatives?__________

Conserving fields is only the starting point.

Village Land Use Management

Is here a village committee ready to take responsibility and make plans for village land-use management?

Are there plans for grazing land and fuelwood supply?

How can the community be motivated to act collectively?__________

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