Carlo's Think Pieces

Reflections of a Filipino in the Netherlands

Posts Tagged ‘NGO’

Capacity Building

Posted by butalidnl on 11 March 2015

‘Capacity Building’ is ‘in’ these days for international funding agencies (FAs), and through them, a lot of NGOs. Capacity building includes trainings on a wide range of topics; it also includes setting up organizations among the beneficiaries. The trainings and organizing are meant to ensure that the benefits of a program continue beyond the usual 3-year period.

Capacity building is quite popular among NGOs and FAs for slightly different reasons. For NGOs, capacity building is important especially when they initiate work in communities. There is a need to create a minimum level of acceptance for the program, and to develop local trainers, group leaders,  technical experts, etc. that are needed for the actual program.

FAs are particularly fond of capacity building.First, it is something that most NGOs ask help for. Second, it is relatively cheap; and it makes the FA look good – there is a lot to report about, even with a small budget. Third, capacity building, as an intermediate process, evades the question of having to measure durable improvement in the lives of beneficiaries. All that needs to be reported are the trainings given, meetings held, etc and not complicated things like ‘level of food security’. Actual improvements in beneficiaries’ lives are ‘kicked down the road’ – hopefully to be done by the NGOs or the communities themselves.
Fourth, capacity building programs are a particularly good way of inserting specific ‘ideological’ stresses of the FA (to satisfy their constituents, supporters). For example, some FAs require HIV-AIDS awareness trainings, even when these are totally irrelevant. For FAs supporting development NGOs, capacity building lets them avoid potential issues of corruption – i.e., that certain individuals or groups appropriate funds or materials for personal gain.

The emphasis on capacity building has meant that a relatively large number of people have been reached by these activities. It has undoubtedly also resulted in organizations of former beneficiaries who continue to be active long after the NGO had left them.
At the same time, the stress on capacity building has also resulted in a lot of communities that have been touched by various NGO programs, but do not enjoy any long-term benefits. There are a number of reasons why this happens: First, it is possible that the development problems of a community could not be adequately addressed within a 3-year time span. Or, the partial goals that were achieved may have proven not robust enough to overcome the deep-seated problems of a community. For example, giving financial literacy training, gender sensitivity training and organizing an association in a community would not be able to address widespread indebtedness of the people.

For NGOs that seek to improve the lives of poor people, the overemphasis on capacity building would push them to work with ever changing communities, instead of sticking out with communities until qualitative improvements in their lives are attained. After a three year program period, they are forced either to move on, or to remain in a community and give more trainings. If they opt to remain in the same communities, training-fatigue may ensue – with people losing interest in further trainings that do not improve their lives.
Real livelihood gains require substantial investments. FAs avoid doing so by simply going  on to new communities. Perhaps they hope that the necessary investments would be made by others, be it the government or private businesses.

After trainings on improved agricultural techniques, initial capital would be needed for trading, or to acquire farm machinery, or for debt-reduction programs (or various combinations of these). But these kinds of investments would require higher amounts of money (up to ten times more than the original budget), which FAs are usually unwiling to grant.

To cope with the needs of communities beyond the ‘capacity building’ phase, NGOs need to take on an ‘integrator’ function. This means that they would initially seek funding for capacity building from FAs, but when these programs are over, they would stick to the communities and help them to acquire the investments that they need – sourcing them from other FAs, local government, national government agencies, mico-finance institutions, or even their own internal funds..

NGOs that are quite specific in terms of their target beneficiaries, e.g. a given ethnic community, or a given town or group of towns, are those most likely to take on an integrator function. Those of wider, or even national, scope would be less likely to do so. But since integrator NGOs tend to be smaller, they also have less caoacity to generate the resources that their communities really need.

Integrator NGOs that do well, have adopted communities for the long term. They have been creative in tweaking more sources of support to cater to the growing needs of the beneficiary community. Unfortunately, there are relatively few of them.


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Raising Farmer Incomes through Farm Machinery

Posted by butalidnl on 6 August 2014

It sounds simple: provide farmers with machines that will increase their yields, and their incomes will rise, lifting them out of poverty. Unfortunately,  it is a bit more complicated than that. There are several reasons why the Philippine government and most NGOs are reluctant to provide farmers with large-scale farm machinery.

One problem, it seems, is that it is difficult for farmers to properly manage high-capacity machines. High-capacity machines like tractors require a high level of organizational efficiency and discipline. Since a tractor could plow large swaths of land (up to 300 hectares), there would inevitably be a mad scramble for its services; and cooperatives could not service all requests.  Ensuring that qualified people operate the machine at all times is also difficult. Also, if the tractor is given (for free) to a cooperative, the cooperative will tend to charge too low prices for its use; leading to problems in financing repairs and eventual replacement.
In other countries, cooperatives mostly bungled the management of farm machinery.

Alternatively, the government could take direct charge of the machines (as was the case in the Soviet Union). This solution was often quite unsatisfactory; it led to enormous bureaucratic bottlenecks and massive corruption.

Then, there is the reluctance to displace farm workers who would otherwise do the work. On close examination, this is only partly true: machines (e.g. tractors) would mostly replace draft animals like the carabao. Moreover, the logic of ‘providing employment’ is illusory. If agricultural development is held back by the lack of machines, farmer incomes would stagnate and even decrease, resulting in many farms being left idle. And this results in less work for farm workers. On the other hand, farm machinery would need workers to operate and service them; and the increased production as a result of the machines will stimulate farmers to bring more land into production. Increased farmer incomes would lead to other agricultural activities e.g. vegetable growing, poultry raising,  which are quite labor intensive.

International NGOs have another problem with mechanization – machines are seen as polluters, producers of greenhouse gases. Carabaos are seen as more ‘green’. It is true that machines do use diesel or gasoline, and emit carbon dioxide; but the carabao also emits methane when it farts.

These considerations has led to an unsatisfactory compromise: the goverment and NGOs give farmers lower-capacity farm machinery, like hand-tractors and threshers. These machines increase productivity a bit, and result in some additional lands being tilled. This choice does not displace labor; and farmer associations and cooperatives can manage these machines. The main benefit will be that more lands could be tilled and more palay harvested (which is the Philippine government’s main aim); but the productivity per hectare (which more directly affect farmer income) does not improve significantly.
On the environmental angle, though, the policy is not good: a tractor can do the work of 5 hand-tractors; but 5 hand-tractors use more diesel than one tractor.

In contrast, some corporations are directly addressing the need for farm mechanization. Their strategy is is to contract land from farmers, and then use large scale machinery and modern production methods to reap abundant harvests. In terms of increasing productivity, this formula is a big success. In terms of raising farmers incomes, though, it is much less spectacular.
A big advantage is that farmers are assured a steady income independent of the uncertainties of the crop cycle. But on the other hand, the rent that the corporations pay to the farmers will most likely remain the same over the years – not raising in step with the increase in harvest, or with inflation. Also, the control over the land effectively passes on to the corporation.

PAIS (Pasali Agricultural Innovations and Services) is a social business active in Region 12, and in particular the town of Palimbang, in Sultan Kudarat province. It proposes yet another approach: provide the services of large-scale agricultural machines, while it teaches farmers improved techniques of planting rice, and organizes them into clusters/associations/cooperatives.  PAIS calls this its Farm Machinery Pool (FMP) project. As a social business, PAIS does not need to make a profit for private shareholders, and recycles all its profits into expansion and social services. The PAIS FMP will provide services of Tractors, Planters and Harvesters – which, in combination, will significantly increase harvests and lessen production costs. Its rates will be relatively low, and the services will be gradually expanded to service more and more farmers. And, the farmers will retain control over their land; which means that they will benefit directly from the increased harvests.
At present, PAIS installs water systems in highland areas all over Mindanao. It will launch with its Farm Machinery Pool in the last quarter of 2014. PAIS is the social business arm of Pasali; its NGO sister organization is the PPF (Pasali Philippines Foundation).
See also: Pasali: Bringing Peace and Lifting Families out of Poverty




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