On Friday 11/26/10 I spoke with two people; one from the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) and the other from the Kenya Rainwater Association (KRA). I was interested to learn about the ways in which the Kenyan government has been or could be supporting the transfer of agriculture technologies to the poor.
Both experiences reinforced my growing perspective that development aid groups often have vague goals that use naive strategies.
My meeting with KARI was frustrating. The individual with whom I was met wanted me to first speak with a colleague of his. This colleague described to me a recent project that KARI coordinated; a World Bank funded (i.e. money borrowed) venture to encourage farmers in Central Kenya to uptake drip irrigation and greenhouse technologies.
The 3 year program, as best as I can recall, first identified ‘groups’ of farmers, interested in the prospect of drip irrigation, through an application system. Those groups of farmers who succeeded in winning the application, were first required to attend a drip kit and greenhouse seminar in their local village. The groups of farmers, guided by KARI technicians, then built a greenhouse and drip irrigation display for their local village. The last part of the program required the farmers within the respective groups to build drip kit systems and greenhouses for their personal farms.
Throughout the colleague’s description of the program, I was biting my tongue. I was so frustrated by the set up and analysis of the program he oversaw, that the questions I eventually asked him needed to be masked by a facade of curiosity so I would not appear critical. The following are three problems with the program that most bothered me:
1. I’ve recently become skeptical of developmental aid using ‘collective/community groups’ to support their effort. The colleague stated that KARI ‘vetted’ program applications written by farmer collectives. The premise for choosing farmer collectives is that because these farmers have successfully worked together in the past, they would continue to use their combined efforts to work on this project and eventually disseminate their experience to the rest of their community. This approach sounds all good prima-facie, but my concern is that, KARI, by targeting only groups of farmers, is effectively looking at only a tiny minority of the Kenyan farmer population. Although, I do not have any statistics on the number of farmers who are part of such groups, I do however believe, anecdotally, that most farmers work at the individual level. Thus, KARI’s approach to meeting their goal, that every small farmer in Kenya use a drip system, was improperly executed by targeting only groups of farmers.
2. My second concern regards KARI’s transfer of the drip kits. For one, KARI did nothing to ensure that stores within the farmers’ areas were selling such systems. If KARI is trying to encourage farmers beyond the group to uptake drip kits, they need to make sure that the farmers can actually buy them at their local store. Secondly, KARI overly subsidized the drip kit and greenhouse systems they gave to the farmers. KARI subsidized 90% of the cost of supplies and construction of the drip kits and greenhouses. This to me does not make sense, because if KARI wants to see whether farmers in the future will eventually purchase these drip kits, they should deliver the kits at a near market price. This is a better way to see whether farmers will actually purchase these kits when sold at an unsubsidized price.
3. The last point I would like to make is that KARI did a poor job of ‘impact assessment’ – keeping statistics on the program.
As I said before, the group of farmers ran a display farm, but they were also given drip kits and greenhouses for their own use. In KARI’s post-delivery study, they only checked to see whether the display farms were effectively growing produce.
When I inquired about whether KARI investigated the use of the drip kits by the individual farmers, the colleague informed me that they had too limited resources and were unable to do so. This to me is poor project planning. How can KARI possibly determine the success of their program, whether or not farmers are using the drip kits, if they are only looking the farmers’ group displays?