Basement blues

Saturday, 23 January 2010. The final day to wrap it all up. We spend the full and only day in the hotel basement, a kind of behaviour that has probably not yet been seen in Cusco, the tourism capital of Peru. Maria is back with us, having overcome the altitude sickness.

The first session, a left-over from yesterday, draws conclusions from the rural financial services in the project. The overall feeling is that the savings-based approach is very sound and sustainable, and that the combination of savings with micro-insurance, especially life insurance, is very powerful in assisting the rural poor to acquire assets while making sure no calamity throws them back to square one. It was suggested to limit the savings subsidies in time, and to include an insurance package in the savings products similarly to the credit products.

Lunch is spent preparing the innovation plans with which we hope to put the learned bits and pieces to practice in our own work, without which the entire tour is useless, as Ariel reminds us.

Making sense of it all

The Rwanda team kicks of with a joint proposal to integrate CLARs and competitions to provide capacity building grants through 2 IFAD-financed projects and one financed by Belgium. The plan would use local structures already being set up, but with a new focus on popular presentations of the proposals and results to be assessed by CLARs. An innovation would be the strong involvement of community innovation centres (CCIs) as secretariat to the CLARs supported by project staff, thereby supporting sustainability. The plan is explicit in its implementation plan, aiming at organising the first community competitions in December 2010.

Next is Venezuela. Their innovation plans promoting rural financial services, especially a savings culture, starting with a few pilot MFIs (cajas rurales), by providing subsidies to savers and additionally using competitions between savers (especially women) to allocate credit to the most performing savers that request credit. This sounds like a very interesting combination of elements of the SSDP. Marcela suggests undertaking exchange visits with Colombia.

The Colombians themselves, true ambassadors of their country, start their presentation with a publicity movie on Colombia. They continue with a talking map, evidently having learned something on the trip. It proposes:
  • a pilot activity on including cultural identity in the business promotion, also to respond to the cultural diversity of the clients;
  • the inclusion of micro-insurance with small subsidies; and
  • the promotion of local talents. Finally, Marcela from the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), Colombia, plans to orient the local authorities in its development efforts, carry out exchange visits and to promote rural savings strategies.

The Irrigation and Rural Livelihoods Development Project (IRLDP) in Malawi wants to pilot some activities in 3 districts. The project team wants to move from project-driven grants for inputs and materials to CLAR-type allocation systems, include services by talents through direct sourcing in the these grants, link farmers to microfinance institutions and improve community-level marketing, and use PRAs to develop talking maps for natural resource management. Ariel suggests that convincing the authorities of the changes will be a challenge, and we propose that the project look for allies to support the cause.

Elizabeth Farmosi’s proposal is called Alliance Sierra Sur – Mother Earth. It is targeted at the Sierra Sur project, with new mechanisms for the population to access resources, alliances with public and private institutions, and improvements to the conditions of the competitions in favour of the poorer members of the participating communities. Good stuff, but possibly the recommendations are a little late for the project and can rather flow into the next design.

Maria Hartl proposes a Learning Route on rural financial services in Peru, targeted at IFAD-financed projects, IFAD staff (especially field staff) and other partners, covering savings, credit, insurance and leasing. Recommendations to Maria were to include remittances, and to match well the innovation needs and experiences available. I wonder how many of us are considering whether this should be their next route.

The final stretch is the auto-evaluation of the Learning Route, which I find really embarrassing: how can you just praise everything. In desperation, I propose organizing the background material so that it’s a little easier to work with. But honestly, the organization and contents was terrific, and now it’s on us to implement the learning plan, as otherwise Ariel will come back some day and tell us that it was all futile. I hope we can count on some ongoing support from PROCASUR and the project for that.

The last night we spend at Chicha, a restaurant specialising in refined traditional dishes. The tour ends with a fun round of surprise awards of certificates between routeros, at which it becomes clear to us that we’ve become a close group of friends that has shared a very intense experience.

I wouldn't be surprised if it turned out that this tour was the best thing I did this year.

Claus Reiner, Country Programme Manager, IFAD


mike taylor said…

Great to follow what you are all up to. ILC was privileged to work with Procasur (one of our members) on a Learning Path for ILC members in Central America last year. We will be having the next one in Uganda and Tanzania in March this year on women's access to land and policy dialogue.

The excellent methodology that Procasur has developed to facilitate in-depth sharing of experiences and cross learning is a very interesting one to us, and we are hoping that we will be able to use it more widely as a mechanism for peer learning on land issues among our members.

One of the challenges we face is the costs - as can be imagined with so much travel, despite Procasur's no-cost contributions as a member of ILC to the learning paths they are developing with us.

I'd be interested to hear your reflections towards the end of the Learning Path on the methodological side of the experience. Would you do other learning paths? Is what the participants got out of it comensurate with the investment it required? Are there any ways in which you might do it differently next time?