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By Monica Romano
How institutional and organizational change can be achieved and what are the benefits and challenges in doing so? Why should rural development projects support institutions and organizations of the poor and what is the added value of these interventions for rural poverty reduction? What are the signals that make us understand when institutions and organizations are sustainable and how can institutional and organizational development be monitored and measured?

This was discussed by a group of passionate panellists and professionals from a variety of organizations, who are all engaged in rural poverty reduction. They took advantage of the limited time at their disposal to avoid theoretical presentations and rather illustrate with concrete examples and field stories what their experience is in working with rural institutions and organizations in empowering poor women and men.
The group discussion kicked off after an introduction by the moderator, Tom Anyonge, IFAD Senior Technical Adviser for Rural Institutions and Organizations. He highlighted some of the key dimensions in building sustainable institutions (“the rules of the game”) and organizations (“the players”), which relate to governance, collective action, partnerships/networking, and individual and organizational capacities. When appropriate measures are undertaken to address these dimensions, there is an increased likelihood for organizations to effectively perform their stated functions and have strong commitment from individuals who operate the systems therein. This happens more so because the individuals (or members) become empowered, have a voice, and can influence the delivery of agreed upon visions and strategies.

The IFAD-field experience was brought in by Judith D’Souza, IFAD country presence officer in India, and Belayhun Hailu Mamo, Senior Officer, Knowledge Management and Participatory Learning, for the Pastoral Community Development Project (PCDP) being implemented in Ethiopia.

Judith presented the self-help group (SHG) model introduced in India in mid-1980s and supported by IFAD, which went far beyond its initial objective of channelling credit to the poor and became a social empowerment movement of rural women. As an attempt to enhance the sustainability of SHGs and ensure continuous service provision after the end of external support, IFAD has also been supporting the formation of Community Managed Resource Centers (CMRCs) to provide financial services to SHGs and facilitate their access to Government’s schemes.

The 15-year experience of PCDP in Ethiopia was shared to illustrate how the establishment of effective mechanisms of public service delivery, investment, and disaster management were able to empower communities, local administrations and regional governments. These led to better manage local development and respond to pastoral communities’ priority needs. In this respect, a demand driven planning process was put in place and supported through a community investment fund, which flows through local government structures down to the beneficiary communities at the grass roots. The Project also supports a participatory disaster management programme to make pastoral communities more resilient to drought and other natural threats to livelihoods.

After putting on the table important elements that ensure the development of robust institutions and organizations – namely trust and cohesiveness among members, interrelation between organizations, and linkages with actors that are not part of the farming community – Nora OurabahHaddad from FAO presented two successful institutional models from Niger and Uruguay. These are documented in a FAO/IFAD joint publication on Rural Institutional Innovations for Improved Food Security: A Collection of Good Practices. The inventory credit or warrantage system was introduced in Niger to help small farmers, through their cooperative or association, to put their agricultural produce on the market later and at a better price, while accessing credit to meet their needs or undertake a profitable activity immediately after the harvest. Farmer organizations borrow from a financial institution, redistributing the loan to the members according to the amount stored. In Uruguay, a multi-stakeholder platform, the Instituto Nacional de la Leche (INALE), has been created to formulate policies to increase the productivity of the dairy sector while ensuring the participation of all actors along the value chain from the public to the private sector, including small-scale producers.

The fourth speaker, Dr. Jeremias Mowo from the World Agroforestry Center (ICRAF), emphasised the importance of collective action to exploit social capital, achieve economies of scale, influence policies, access markets through bulking of produce and stronger bargaining power, and access credit. He also provided us with an update on the status of a recently started IFAD-supported grant for Enabling Rural Transformation and Grassroots Institutional Building for Sustainable Land Management and Increased Income and Food Security, whose cornerstone is enhancing institutions’ and organizations’ governance, leadership, capacity and networking. The grant will help develop a framework for grassroots institutional and organizational analysis and development.

 The sharing of field experiences was followed by an intense discussion and questions from the floor, touching upon issues such as the importance of working with existing institutions and organizations to ensure ownership, suitability/acceptability to the local context, and sustainability; the role that umbrella organizations (e.g. federations) can play in delivering services to farmer groups; the need to involve grassroots institutions and organizations from the planning process to and over implementation; and the challenge of establishing M&E mechanisms to monitor institutional and organizational change.

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