Value of cross-continental learning route

by Nguyen Thanh Tung

After flying from Hanoi across Asian, African and Latin American countries and taking long transit hours in Kuala Lumpur, Cape Town and Buenos Aires we finally landed in Lima, Peru after 44 long hours. Our team of 11 people including provincial leaders, IFAD project directors and staffs from Vietnam then climbed to Arequipa, Chivay and Sibayo in the Andes mountains and wondered if the intercontinental trip would have learning value. “I thought farmers in my province suffer harsh conditions, but really here their livelihood is much more challenging, the area has more stones than we have ”, said Mr. Tien, Vice-Chairman of Ha Giang Province when he saw the land surface in the southern region of Peru made up only of stone like on the moon.

We were surprised from the first day of the Learning Route, by the cold climate in the highlands at altitudes of 3,800 meter and above and by such a warm atmosphere of the community’s dynamics and ownership of development. “No need for reading the project completion report or any of monitoring and evaluation, the presentation skills and understandings on business management by the women’s groups we met in the villages and during a CLAR contest showed us the successes of the IFAD project”, concluded Ms. Vien, IMPP Project Director from Tra Vinh province after the four-day visit to women’s household-tourism and handicraft associations in Sibayo and their actual participation in the final CLAR contest on poverty reduction impacts of their activities. Recalling similar Cham ethnic minority women in her province who are shy and reluctant to talk at community meetings, Ms. Vien added: “I do think that the CLAR mechanism makes the local poor women change their capacities and we need to learn from this from Peru for replication under IFAD projects in Vietnam”.

Why the CLAR mechanism was so attractive to the Vietnamese team? CLAR in Spanish is “Comité Local de Asignación de Recursos” (local resources allocation committee), in which community groups compete with their business ideas and plans for accessing pubic resources that they will own and manage to procure technical assistance and build up infrastructure they need. CLAR members are representatives of the beneficiary communities and enterprise associations and information on the CLAR process and decisions are publicly announced. Resources allocated by the CLAR are up to the 80% of the total budget of a business plan and the other 20% is invested by the local communities, so both become partners. This factor makes the community groups the real owners of their business plans, e.g. they decide to hire someone locally available to teach poor women weaving handcrafts or cooking food for tourists. There is no need to wait for training services by government staffs.

The principle of competition in the CLAR contest is also a key factor, motivating creation of new business ideas and assurance of product quality. Trade fairs, integrated with the CLAR contest, generate opportunities for producer’s associations to promote the marketing of their products in urban areas. All these factors were discussed by our team during analysis workshops conducted during the Learning Route right after each day of field visits and interviews with local stakeholders. The more we learned about the CLAR mechanism the more we fell in love with this tool and asked for its detailed guidelines. We believe that this tool may overcome the current constraints to development of producer’s associations under IFAD projects in Vietnam, in particular in their access to financial and technical assistance due to bureaucratic and top-down mechanisms of public service management.

“I found CLAR a very effective and efficient system for pro-poor public resource management. However, adopting CLAR in Vietnam will need the political commitment of local government for introducing changes like in Peru. Thank you, IFAD and PROCASUR very much for helping me in crossing the world’s continents to learn many new things that we are ready to replicate in Vietnam”, said Vice-Chairman Tien during the final workshop of the Learning Route in which each of us presented our follow-up innovation plans based on the Peru experience.

We all fully in agree with Vice-Chairman Tien that we learnt more than expected. In addition to the CLAR itself we learnt in Peru how to develop sustainable community-based tourism and off-farm activities in remote and difficult areas, how to conserve indigenous techniques among ethnic minority groups and integrate the production workshops within tourism activities, how to promote public private partnerships (PPP) in development of saving groups in cooperation with private banks, provision of training to government staffs and communities by private mining companies, etc. but there are more and more interesting things to list here. For example Vice-Chairman Tien was most happy when he saw in the Peruvian household he stayed with in Sibayo village the model of wood-saving stove that he was looking for promoting in his province.

Saying goodbye with warmest hugs with our Peruvian friends we invited them to join us soon in a Learning Route to IFAD projects in Vietnam since we believe that sharing knowledge does need to be organized focused on key innovation that we want to bring back home, and in face-to-face interactions with project stakeholders, in particular the poorest ethnic minority women in the most disadvantaged areas.