Field work in South Africa reveals a dominant strategy for agricultural projects in the rural villages. This “Community Group Project Model” aims to get together a group of villagers and a block of several hectares to initiate a commercial agricultural cooperative. This model is very rarely effective. Its persistence can be attributed to discourses of entrepreneurialism, development take off and social capital. The lesson is that an alternative project model may work better.
A better project design could be aid to individual families to develop non market (subsistence) agricultural production. An example of this second is the Quaker Service Australia project in Cambodia (1997 – 2000). The success of a household subsistence approach is well documented for this case. There were substantial improvements in food security and health in all sites and some commercial sales of surplus crops in favoured locations.
While many community group projects fail, we also need to acknowledge some successes. A detailed study of the EU assistance to irrigation in North Bali shows the efficacy of the community cooperative and entrepreneurial approach in that context. What are the social conditions and project structure that enabled success in this situation?
Answering these questions, we can perhaps become more cautious about the sites where a community project to develop commercial agriculture can be usefully implemented.
There are three sets of data feeding into this paper, with different methods. The South African data comes from two sources. The first is a set of research reports compiled by extension workers from South Africa. Ten agricultural officers were funded to undertake a Masters Program at the University of Newcastle. During the summer, they returned to South Africa to collect data for a research project. The methods used were interviews and focus groups with local farmers, agricultural extension officers and key village leaders. Inevitably, years of field experience as extension officers also informed these reports. This data base was supplemented by a field trip. The author travelled to the sites of the student research. Two widely separated villages were intensively studied; the author interviewing farmers and looking at agricultural and project sites. The author also visited projects in four different provinces of South Africa in the company of agricultural officers. The Cambodian data comes from a collaboration between Rosemary Morrow, the permaculture trainer brought from Australia and local field officers appointed by the Quaker Service Australia project. The data is a combination of a survey, conducted by field officers to review the project, and participant observation data collected during the project. The final data set is from North Bali. For the most part it was collected by Nazrina Zuryani, who worked as a Women in Development Officer on the first EU project and researched the second project for her PhD thesis. The qualitative data is a set of interviews with key stakeholders, focus groups with farmers and participant observation. She also surveyed members of the development groups. The author of this paper spent a month at the site, visiting the farms that were being assisted and talking with farmers, leaders of the development groups and officers of the project itself.
The South African Projects
A model of agricultural project that has been tried many times in the South African villages is the “community group project model” (Leahy 2009). It is almost always a failure.
In South Africa, government development and NGO projects in rural villages are oriented to food security and sustainable agriculture. According to development theory, without the active participation and good will of the recipients, projects will inevitably succumb to social inertia and resistance (Pretty 1995; Bunch 1997). Accordingly, the community group project model is designed to avoid that by guaranteeing community participation and control.
The “community group projects” of South Africa share the following characteristics.
- Only some people in a village are members. Usually about 20 to 60 people.
- The people who join up are not all relatives of each other.
- Typically a community leader links up with a funding body to get this kind of project moving and recruits other people.
- The intention of the project is to supply infrastructure so that people can produce something different from what they normally produce.
- The aim is to go “beyond subsistence” and enable a cash income.
- The project takes place on land that has already been allocated to individual families for cropping or to the community for grazing.
A lot of these projects aimed to grow vegetables for sale on a plot between 2 and 5 hectares. A borehole and a pump for irrigation would be supplied and the plot of land for the project would be fenced. Other variations included projects to grow mushrooms for sale, grow broilers or produce eggs and so on. I visited many projects like this, some of which had been recently initiated and were still operating successfully. But most were by now defunct. My analysis of their problems is based on my field work and also on the reports of the agricultural officers.
The dominance of the community group project model
As an example of the dominance of this model as a paradigm for projects, I am going to take a book written for the South African government to explain its land care program. I want to draw attention to the way the author presupposes that there will be a community group – a cooperative – that receives funding and manages the funds. Generalizing about land care projects he writes:
Cash contributions are extremely important even if they are quite small because they foster ownership more than labour contributions and they provide a mechanism for the group to establish and manage a bank account … Community groups able to collect money and manage a bank account are also much more likely to attract other funding partners. (Holt 2005: 26)
This passage assumes that we will be using the community group project model and then tells us how we can be sure of making it work. Holt is certainly right that if we are going to have a community group project model, making sure that members put in some of their own money can work to guarantee participation. What I want to question is the way it is assumed that this kind of project is always the best way to do things.
What goes wrong with community group projects?
My research suggests that for every working project in a village there are usually between three to eight projects that have been started in the past and later fell apart. These projects were initiated mostly by a variety of government departments and occasionally by an NGO or by charitable business funding.
So what goes wrong? People usually talk about the inevitable clashes of personality. They go on to say that projects fail because “people are lazy here”. Neither of these explanations is very helpful. Conflicts like this come about because of problems with what these projects can do.
Limited opportunities for income
One problem is that the extra production infrastructure that the project supplies – usually a bore and pump – cannot boost production enough to give any serious amount of extra cash to up to 40 people. The amount of land is about what four families would normally occupy on their community cropping fields. More often than not, problems with the infrastructure and inputs means that even this amount of land is not used effectively.
There is work and financial commitment required to maintain the infrastructure, to maintain the social connections between members and to manage the business side of the project. If the project does not pay well, motivation for all this work is lacking.
The vegetable project at Mmatau in North West Province is a good example of these problems of financial capacity. A young and hard working agricultural officer had developed the project with 12 young locals. They were committed to making a commercial success and were growing a very healthy set of cabbages. While they had an enormous site of about four hectares, they had only been able to use about an eighth of this. There were problems in getting water to the site. The borehole they first installed failed. They put in another one about 500 metres away, and ran a pipe to deliver water. The pump was stolen. So they had been getting water from a hose joined up to a tap in the yard of the household next door. This makeshift arrangement was one reason why it was hard for them to expand their operation.
There was little chance for the project to produce a useful income for the twelve participants. In one three months cycle they would get R6000 for their cabbages. This would be R166 per month each. Out of this would also have to come the money they needed to supply pesticides and fertilizer. The amount paid to each participant would certainly be a welcome addition to child support (R180 per month) or a help to a household where most income was from an old aged pension (R780 per month). But it is hardly a full time wage or anything close to that.
The problem of inadequate financial incentive is typical of community group projects and is joined to another problem. A group of 40, which is the typical size for a community group project, is a small fraction of the total village community and even if the incomes of these forty people were substantially improved this would do little to relieve poverty for the whole village.
Awkward social connections
Another problem is that a typical group for farming in these communities is not a large group of unrelated people. Mostly, when people work together in agriculture, it is with members of their family or close friends – for example two sisters or female friends and some of their children. This kind of working group is typical of developing country situations and as Roland Bunch suggests, it is better to start “building institutions” with a group like this rather than attempting a larger community cooperative (Bunch 1997: 220).
Distrust of leadership and corruption
Although the project model is founded on an expectation of democratic participatory management – a cooperative – it is hard to know how to make decisions as equals in such a big group. Leaders of the group can be corrupt and are often suspected of being corrupt. This is more likely if the financial structures necessary to run the group are complicated, meaning that the wealthy and educated members of the community are most likely to take control (Bunch 1997). As Roland Bunch says, the ideal organization to be setting up is one that does not need to handle money (Bunch 1997).
All these points were made by Augustus, who for many decades had worked as a project officer for NGO agricultural projects in the villages. He had a perceptive analysis of what would go wrong. Members of a group expect that a project will make money quickly and that they will receive something for their efforts. When this does not happen they become disillusioned and leave the project. Secondly, they join a project because they hear that a certain amount of money is available for the project – for example R80 000. When there is no cash paid out to beneficiaries, they become convinced that the leaders must be siphoning off the money for their own purposes, which certainly does happen on occasions. However, what is just as likely is that the project donors (government or NGO) are requiring that all expenses be justified and be paid out for work done or materials purchased. When beneficiaries get no cash income, they will be teased by other villagers as gullible – why are they putting in all this work for no benefit?
Community jealousy and theft
Community distrust partly comes from the appropriation of community land or land previously allocated to individual families. Secondly, people ask why these 40 project members are getting government resources that are not available to the rest of the community.
This suspicion makes theft and vandalism a problem. The theft of the pump at Mmatau is very typical and this sort of incident often stops community projects, which will not be supplied with a replacement. Thieves from the community steal the broiler chickens, the vegetables, the pump or the fencing wire. Vandalism is also possible. People seem very willing to take fencing wire or move their cattle onto land that is designated for a project – especially if this was land that was previously owned by the whole community or assigned to particular families, who have been displaced by the project.
This kind of theft and vandalism is not in fact culturally typical. In villages where I stayed, it is not acceptable to walk on the land of other community members without permission. It is rare for people to steal crops from other people’s cropping fields. It is projects that provoke theft. The project’s ownership of land, resources and equipment is not seen as legitimate. Tall mesh fencing topped with razor wire is almost always necessary to protect projects – from the community – while people’s individual cropping fields have no fencing at all. This constant harassment drains the members of energy and financial resources.
Inadequate financial skills
Inexperience in business is another kind of problem. For example, a project is often designed to produce a cash income and set aside some of that money to pay for inputs, to pay for repairs to machinery or to pay to replace machinery in the event of theft. The accounting skills required to make this design work are often beyond beneficiaries.
The project at Voordonker in North West Province epitomized many of these problems of the community group project model. I visited this project with the agricultural officer and spoke to one of the project’s founders. It had been defunct for several years, after operating for two years. About half a hectare had been fenced off with a high wire fence to keep out thieves. The fence was rusty and some of the fence posts had been removed since the project finished. In the middle of this bare paddock was a shed, which had housed the cages for the layers. As we stood outside, she explained the failure of the project and the agricultural officer translated. There had originally been 11 participants and the money had come from an NGO. It was to help the poorest of the poor. The fence and chicken house had been supplied along with 100 chickens and 24 bags of layer mash to get started. The idea was that they would sell the eggs and use the money to buy more layer mash and in that way get the business cooperative up and running. There were disputes. People took the eggs to sell and then did not bring the money back to pay for any more layer mash. People who were not doing any of the work looking after the chickens wanted an equal share of the money. Many of the members did not trust the leaders of the project. The agricultural officer believed that poor book keeping had exacerbated this distrust. Five of the original eleven left the project. Fifteen of the Rhode Island Red chickens died from diseases. The financial crisis meant that there was no money to purchase layer mash to keep the chickens. The members who were still active decided to sell the chickens that were left.
The larger the number of beneficiaries who are involved, the more these accounting issues get mixed up with issues of trust and honesty. The less educated are the beneficiaries, the more difficult it is to get these accounting issues dealt with effectively – to find a competent treasurer and secretary and to ensure that members understand what is going on. As Roland Bunch puts it, “If only two or three people can understand the accounting, effective participation is limited to those two people. And only their goodwill will keep the organization from being run not only by them but for them” (Bunch 1997: 217).
The main problem is that these organizational and financial problems take place in a context where the project does not actually increase people’s earning power by very much. So it is easy to give up the project rather than hang on through the inevitable disputes and setbacks.
As Roland Bunch remarks for development initiatives in general, such projects are based in the model of the “cooperative” but actually cooperatives “are tremendously complicated structures that are difficult to understand and even more difficult to run” (Bunch 1997: 217).
The failures of projects of this kind were evident in every part of South Africa that I visited and my students researched. I also noted that successes were almost always fairly recent, suggesting that these projects rarely last beyond five years.
Discussion - the reasons behind the dominance of the community project model
It may seem a puzzle that such an unsuccessful model for community projects has been so persistent in South Africa. I trace this to a number of ideas. One is that these projects are seen as participatory. What actually prevents them from working well is the large number of participants. But the idea is to involve as many poor people as possible and so to become an expression of the needs of the “community”.
A second is the desire to “go beyond subsistence”. The view is that there can be no development without jobs and participation in the monetary economy. These projects are seen as training people for this. Accordingly there is an emphasis on producing foods that can be sold on the market. This implies all the difficulties of money management that can lead to problems. It also means that people are measuring these projects against other options for income.
Finally this model works on ideas about the necessity to develop “social capital” in order to accomplish a takeoff in development. The belief is that people need to learn to work together to develop successful enterprises and participate in the economy. These projects, with their involvement of multiple stakeholders working together on a commercial enterprise, are seen as a necessary stage in skill development.
While these ideas are understandable, their expression in the community group project becomes a problem. We have to look to other models to create successful projects. In the next part of this article I will look at a project in another country which differs in a number of key respects. Two features of its design depart from the community project model.
- Participants in the project are recruited as members of individual households and invited to develop the productivity of the farming land that they already own – for the benefit of their own families.
- The emphasis of the project is on subsistence agriculture – agriculture intended to grow food that will be distributed without cash payment.
The Cambodian Permaculture Project
This Cambodian project was implemented over three years (1997 -2000). In May to June of 2000 the project was evaluated by representatives from the Pursat and Kampong Chhnang Departments of Women’s and Veterans’ Affairs and the representative from the Quaker Service which was the NGO that had funded the project, Rosemary Morrow, an Australian Permaculture Designer. There were 1200 local farmers in the two provinces who were involved with the project. They took part in permaculture training sessions to build skills and learn permaculture theory. The aim was that they would redesign their farms to be more productive. There was an emphasis on the home vegetable garden. This was an innovation as farms were set up to grow rice for the marketplace. They learned:
… where to place their vegetable gardens, how to use grey water, to use organic matter as compost, to save seed, to garden without chemical fertilisers and pesticides and skills with fruit trees and animals. (DWVA 2000: i)
So the project was emphatically not a “community group project” in so far as it was designed to assist individual farmers to develop their agriculture on their own land.
There was much about the project which was not “entrepreneurial”. The emphasis was on growing food for the household. The results of the project were first to be measured in the health of participants. While hunger was a common experience for these rural families, the project increased the supply of food and health improved as vegetables were grown and eaten every day. There were certainly some cash benefits coming out of the project as well. Women who ate all their produce were able to use scarce cash resources for other needs. Others sold a surplus and gained some cash income through that. A few project members who had also been trainers gained new careers in orcharding, market gardening or setting up nurseries.
The design of the project did not depend on a community group cooperative to run things. The structure was a pyramid. Trainers were taught by the project leaders who in turn instructed the farmer participants. Trainers had to begin by making their own garden before instructing the women. They were also instructed in white collar skills relevant to the project – how to design their own “curriculum, posters, trainer’s books and leaflets for farmers” (DWVA 2000: i). Later they were taught how to carry out the evaluation on which this account is based, to gather interviews and collect surveys.
The project depended almost entirely on voluntary work by members on their own farms. On the other hand the poorest participants were given some materials to get their gardens started and those who were better off were given loans to get access to basic materials. All were given some seeds to get started.
To evaluate impact of the training on the health of women farmers, eighty were randomly selected. Their answers were checked by observation of their gardens and health. Vegetable gardening was new to the farmers, 90% had only been growing rice. They either had no garden at all or had a remote garden for a cash crop that was moved every year. The idea that you would put a garden next to the house and make use of available compost, manure and grey water was completely new and took time to establish. Between 7 and 28 species of vegetables were seen in the new gardens and a slightly smaller number being reported as being eaten. The average per person was 8 vegetables. These results were achieved partly by direct instruction. In Kampong Chhnang, trainers informed mothers that they should feed their children vegetables twice a day to deal with nutritional deficiencies. They also showed them how to make vegetable soups. The outcome of a diet of up to nine vegetables per person per day was that “within three months children and women were still thin but their air of well-being and lack of infections was quite remarkable” (DWVA 2000: 25). Fruit consumption was also considerably increased after three years of the project’s interventions.
In rural Cambodia, health problems caused by malnutrition are very common – anaemia, blindness caused by vitamin A deficiency, avoidable infections of ears, noses and chests. To survey impacts on health, the researchers looked at symptoms such as hair colour and skin condition, skin blotches, tiredness, chest, nose and eye infections, very thin or very fat. In the project villages about 90% registered as quite well or having a few health problems. While only 23% had 5-8 problems in the project villages, this compares to villages not affected by the project with 50% in this category (DWVA 2000: 30). The proximity of the garden to the house is an important factor in the health improvements achieved by the project.
Discussion – the economic impacts of the project
There were two ways in which the project worked to improve food security.
a. Having sufficient food in the garden, or stored, so cash outlays do not have to be made, that is, income substitution, or,
b. Selling surplus garden products to buy, say, more rice, or meat or even fruits. (DWVA 2000: 49)
All the trainers recruited by the project used their gardens in both these ways, eating daily from the gardens and selling some surplus at least once a week.
Loans to farmers were used to buy pigs, chickens, farm equipment, fruit trees and for clothing and schooling. At the beginning of the project, hoes and watering cans were issued to farmers, with seeds and fruit trees being allocated according to the needs and requests of farmers.
The farmers who were most likely to sell some of the vegetables that they had grown from their project gardens were those closest to towns who had good roads into town and a good water supply throughout the year. The more remote farmers or farmers in dryer villages were more likely to eat all their produce. The farmers who had been in the project for three years were much more likely to be able to sell some of their crop than those who had only been in the project for one year. Overall about 30% of the project participants were selling some of their crop.
Clearly, while this is a project that does have some market outcomes and it does work in the market economy, it does not depend on the participants successfully marketing the crops which they have been helped to grow. It is not an “entrepreneurial” project because the key aim is not to establish participants as mini entrepreneurs. There is a patchwork of ways in which the project relates to the market economy. Some necessary inputs were provided by the project – a cash free gift. In addition to this, small loans were used where farmers were likely to be able to repay them. There was no paid work provided to most participants so recruitment to the project was not in the expectation of a financial benefit of that type. On the other hand, the trainers themselves were paid an income for the duration of the project. The primary benefits sought were improved health outcomes through subsistence cash free gardening for home consumption. However this in itself is a market outcome in so far as it frees up other cash for items which can only be bought on the market. Farmers who gained experience and expertise through the project were able to produce a surplus. As a last economic benefit, trainers who were recruited by the project learned a number of skills and sometimes made use of these in setting up small enterprises or moving on to work in government or for NGOs developing similar projects inspired by this one.
The EU Projects of North Bali
My discussion here follows the research on these projects carried out by Zuryani (2007). I supervised this research and visited the sites in 2003. There were two irrigation projects in North Bali implemented by the EU with assistance from the Indonesian government. Their aim was to support 3,600 beneficiaries and implement irrigation on 9,000 hectares of land. The strategy was based on the construction of 39 tube wells to provide irrigation to the fields in the dry season. The projects covered 12 villages (with about 5,000 population on average) in the north Bali coastal strip, to the east of the major city Singaraja. The first project ran from 1995 to 1999. The project was re-started from 2003 to 2006. The expense of the project was considerable – the EU donated or loaned 6 million euros. Much local employment was to assist farmers with extension work and pay field officers to help farmers to manage the tube wells and introduce new crops. The success of this project cannot be disentangled from its considerable financial weight.
This project expressed in almost every way the dominant thinking on agricultural development and there is no doubt that aid organizations in many developing countries look to examples like this to back up plans for aid to commercial projects organized through community groups. However this success was premised on aspects of the local economy and social tradition that are not readily replicated.
The projects followed the collapse of the citrus industry in North Bali. From 1970 to 1987, citrus production became the dominant agricultural activity of North Bali. It worked well with the dry/wet season climate variation of this region. In 1987 the citrus industry collapsed as the result of CVPD disease and the region was thrown into poverty. Many Balinese migrated to other islands or tried to find work in cities. It was feared that this poverty would engender a social crisis. The EU projects were an attempt to alleviate this poverty by addressing agricultural problems. They aimed at a diversity of new commercial options that could become available if water was provided in the dry season.
Success of the project
The success of this project has been remarkable. Despite the failure of the project to re-start citrus after a five year pause, other strategies were very effective. Even now, two years after the project wound up, most tube wells are still functioning. In a recent interview with Nazrina Zuryani, Pak Nang Kocong, who was also one of the interviewees for the 2007 study, made this comment:
There is no doubt that the agricultural exploitation is sustainable. Water has been running uninterruptedly since 97, thus for 11 years. We use it for farming, animal husbandry as well as for domestic consumption. More plants now grow, and we raise more animals. So the wells built by the European Union must be maintained by the group members. Now from 39 tube wells, either in Tejakula, Buleleng or in the district of Kubu in the regency of Karangasem, none has had its flow interrupted. So, all this is proof that water is truly needed. (February 2009)
Local farmers have been enthusiastic about the increased production possible with water in the dry season and the openings to markets that this allows. Nang Kocong in 2007 described the changes:
Clearly the impact is very great. For example coconut has been very highly productive … it ended up reaching 80% higher production. In the dry season you need water here. Agricultural land was completely empty and now it can be used for cropping and also for animal husbandry. Pig raising is very obvious. Theose who plant enough can increase their income; half the needs of the household can come from sweet potato leaves [sold for cattle and pig fodder]. (Zuryani 2007: 215-216)
The head of another group described what he had observed in locations where the irrigation had been installed:
Before the tube wells, in the dry season, the land was as though it was asleep, it was like it did not exist because the farmers did not have water. (Zuryani 2007: 216)
All varieties of fruit grown in the area (mainly coconuts, mangoes and rambutans) have been able to be produced at a greater size and consequently a more marketable crop. There has been a great deal of success in growing crops for cattle fodder (mainly elephant grass and sweet potato leaves). The outcome has been a boom in the production of pork and cattle, which has been very marketable given the Balinese tourist industry and the growth of the middle class in Indonesia. A survey by Leckie and Susrusa (2003) documents some of these economic successes and increases in incomes and production. They claim that on average, farmers in the project area increased their agricultural income 490%. Zuryani’s study (2007) shows that irrigation has led to a boom in agricultural production and an increase in farming work. In the two groups receiving irrigation, more than 80% of men and women report inceases in farming, gardening for sale or live stock care – compared to figures like 20 to 59% for the non irrigated groups (Zuryani 2007: 174). There has been an ideological shift. The irrigated groups now say that farming for commercial production is more important than farming for home consumption – groups without the water supply reverse this preference. Eighty six percent of those who were not yet connected to the irrigation water said that farming for home consumption was important or very important. Only 25% of those in the two groups that were receiving the water had the same opinion (Zuryani 2007: 178).
How was the project organized?
So what are the forms of social organization of the project and why do they work? In one way the kind of organization of these projects is radically different from that favoured for community group projects in the South African villages. For the most central activities of the project, each farming household maintains its role as a separate economic unit producing for its own economic benefit – there is no attempt to organize households into a cooperative making profits as a group and redistributing them. However, other aspects are more similar. Farmers join together in a group united by their attempt to make use of a piece of machinery (their tube well) to make a commercial profit. Each group is led by a man who is already a powerful local figure. The operations of the group depend on a joint fund to which all members make contributions. It is this joint fund which is used to pay for electricity to run the pump and is saved to make repairs.
Discussion – what makes these groups work well in North Bali
1. Mirroring traditional organizational structures
So what are the aspects of the situation that make this work well? The most important is undoubtedly the fact that these groups mirror the traditional irrigation organizations and religious organizations that have been in Bali for generations. In such groups, the head of the group is elected by consensus. There are regular meetings organized by the Balinese calendar system. Members discuss issues and arrive at a consensus with the leading man (or woman) steering the discussion. Members set out a mini constitution of agreed rules when the group is set up – these are often called the awig-awig, a term which denotes their use in traditional organizations. The benefits that each member is to get from the common property are spelled out in advance. Backing up this structure is a set of agreed fines for members who fail to carry out the tasks assigned to them by the group or who are behind in their payments. If people leave the group, they lose their right to any of the money that they have contributed.
These traditional structures are quite consciously promoted in the irrigation groups set up by the EU. For example the leader of Les 08 tube well explained why his group had not been disturbed by complaints from farmers that they were not getting an adequate share of the water:
Here, well as far as I can evaluate over four years, there is little complaint from people that they got less water, because here the water utilisation is based on demand, such as how much each farmer needs the water, which is met at least 95% of the time. Our management is particularly aiming at a situation where no farmer has less water … water demands are distributed according to those who have the same demands so that all those who need 2 hours water get it at the same time, 3 hours also the same and 4 hours get 4 hours.
My group has collected some capital to be able to cover the electricity connection fee. Well, with this, including the electricity usage fee, we hope to be covered by the interest on that capital. At the end we will only need a little more money to collect in order to pay the water use fee each month. (Zuryani 2007: 229)
Another leader lays out the organizational structures necessary for success in a more general way:
By being organized we create solidarity that will enable us to look forward. So we work together and make collective decisions. But we must also raise capital through having members saving money. But we must further reinforce the group, and this must be well thought over, because we must avoid a situation in which people relinquish their membership. So we have purchased goods that can be used for the raising of cash. The women farmers here have bought 100 chairs which they rent out. With this the group remains united. And it will remain so. Thus there are less problems with people withdrawing from the group. With the group having some property, its members think first, ‘If I leave the group, I have to face the consequences of the awig awig’. If one cannot relinquish one’s membership without reason, or if the reason is not accepted by the group, this means that the group is solid. Sometimes there should be sanctions in the form of money, as part of the regulations, that is fines or forfeits. (Zuryani 2007: 285)
He went on to stress the decision making processes that would ensure the strength of the group:
Concerning decision making, I am still providing the guidance, but I let things proceed democratically between members of the group. That is sure. Because those who take the decisions are also those who are going to bear the consequences. So I insist. We are making the regulations all together. So we should grasp the content of these rules, because we will have to respect them. Only then will they stand the test of time. (Zuryani 2007: 287)
In traditional groups, contributions are expected but are not tied to any particular outcomes – they are a sign of religious devotion and participation in the life of the community. In the case of these tube well groups, the groups worked best that organized a system of contributions in advance of any need to pay bills. The European Union allowed two years grace in which members would not have to pay the electricity fees. The most successful groups did not see this as a time of free provision but began building up their bank deposit through regular contributions initiated after a consensus decision about the rules to be followed. They then had no trouble paying the electricity fees and repairs to the pumps when necessary.
What is also relevant is the way leaders of these groups invest in the success of their groups. As became clear in interviews, it was a matter of pride and honour to be the leader of a successful group. Leaders were usually better educated than other members of groups and often had inherited elite status. Leaders spoke of their groups with the possessive “my”. Jero Mangku Lama was leader of his group and also a religious and customary leader. He claimed:
There is something which I really hope to achieve with regard to the future of farmers, and in particular with regard to my community members from this dusun [parish]. Especially those who have been allocated irrigation water from the tube wells. What I hope is that the standard of living of these members may improve. (Zuryani 2007: 270)
The traditional groups that take this form are referred to as seka and the groups which have been set up by the Indonesian government during the New Order period are referred to as kelompok. Within the region of the tube wells there were already a host of such organizations running when the EU project started. These were on the one hand local organizations to fund temples and religious ceremonies; traditional rice irrigation subak groups (also a kind of religious organization); local money saving and lottery groups (arisan); earlier development groups started by government such as the fishermens’ and fishermens’ wives groups and so on.
2. Years of experience in commercial production
The second key aspect of this situation is that the project intervened to strengthen commercial agriculture in a situation where agriculture for sale was already very well established and financial skills to make this work are widespread in the community. As I visited farmers in this area to discuss the project, quite a few produced notebooks in which they had written their accounts, what they spent, what they had earned and so on. Two interesting developments at the initiation of the project illustrate this mindset very well. The EU gave a million rupiah to each group as a start up fund. In one group, as mentioned above, women purchased 100 chairs with this money to hire them out to make an income. In other groups, farmers used this money to buy pigs, with the proviso that those who received pigs would pay back two pigs to the group when they had their first litter. Some of this money went back to the group as contributions. Later, the EU used the same strategy in distributing new varieties of banana trees to farmers.
This whole area had become wealthy from 1970 from a commercial citrus crop and it is no surprise that they were able to make use of the infrastructure provided by the EU to diversify into other successful commercial operations. Calculation of profits to be made in relation to the costs of inputs is second nature to this community and many expressed these ideas in their discussion of the EU project and its benefits. Pak Gurana, leader of a group that was about to be connected to a tube well, expressed his hopes in this way:
I think like this. I have friends already who have one square metre. They can get 2,000 rupiah per month just planting sweet potato. My thought is that with 100 square metres I could make 200,000 rupiah. Meaning that in each month I could pay the electricity fee for the pump connection from that area alone and the rest is just profit. (Zuryani 2007: 241)
Another leader explained how the project had enabled a successful commercialization of agriculture:
In the past, before there was a tube well, women did not sell their crops. So there was no income to finance the family. Because in one year they could only farm for a six month period. The focus was on feeding the family. Now with the project, as well as food for family consumption, they also have a surplus that can increase income. Sometimes we get twice as much in the dry season as in the wet season. (Zuryani 2007: 217)
3. An ideal location for market agriculture
The third key aspect of the situation is that this community is linked in already to a network of trading and commercial exchange with the rest of Bali and with Indonesia as a whole. The tourist industry means that there is a ready market for much agricultural produce that is there to be tapped – without the exigencies of transporting crops to ports to an uncertain global market. Tarred roads run right into these villages – it is a half hour’s drive to a major port and regional city and only two hours to an international airport. This situation is not replicated in many developing countries.
The successful Cambodian project and the EU project in North Bali shared one significant departure from the “community project model” that is so pervasive in South Africa. There was no attempt to join a large number of people together to work a common plot and create a cooperative to market their joint product and distribute the profits. As Bunch (1997) remarked, a “cooperative” is one of the most difficult economic structures to run and is not likely to be effective in any development project.
Given the social characteristics of the South African villages, the project design developed for Cambodia is the one most likely to make sense in those villages. In this project design from Cambodia, projects recruit farmers to work on their own plots. The project is about assisting farmers with some small material assistance (mostly in tools) and with some educational development to increase the productivity of their own subsistence (not for cash) agriculture.
Economically, this works where there are few opportunities for paid employment or for commercial small scale farming. The project makes use of the time available to participants to provide a service in food security and in sustaining their land. Techniques make use of time but do not require cash investment to purchase fertilisers and pesticides. The project design acknowledges the uncertainty of the commercial market for agricultural products and the ways in which dependence on markets can leave people short if prices plummet. The project design acknowledges the poor infrastructure for transporting products to markets. The project design acknowledges the limited educational background of participants and their difficulties in making complicated systems of accounting, pricing and marketing work for them, especially in relation to large group projects.
All this seems to fly in the face of economists’ understandings that development can only come through successful integration into the commercial economy and the creation of “sustainable” jobs. However this is very far from the case. As Morrow points out in reference to the Cambodian project, the point of assistance to subsistence agriculture in such contexts is that the food produced for the household substitutes for cash in the household economy – freeing up cash for other necessities and enabling beneficiaries to improve their readiness for jobs that may become available. It allows participants and their children to buy the items necessary to participate in education; it helps them to afford the communications technologies necessary to become aware of the economic opportunities; it enables the fitness for work that follows from health and vitality.
While the EU project and the Cambodian project are oriented to assistance to individual farmers to improve their own productivity, neither of these projects is carried out without the development of important social capital. In the Cambodian case, groups of farmers were linked together to receive training and the trainers themselves received training from the project. Trainers also developed skills to create handbooks, posters and leaflets and helped other NGOs to include these skills in their community development. The survey design and implementation was also carried out by these trainers. Many farmers who became trainers in this project went on to develop commercial enterprises or to get positions in development organizations.
For the EU project in Bali, community organization was essential for the project to be effective. This was because tube wells were being installed to service up to 20 farmers. The cooperative control of the pump and tube well was absolutely necessary for farmers to receive the individual benefits on their own land that the project made available – more than a doubling of cash income from farming. By contrast, many of the vegetable projects and broiler projects of South Africa have found it difficult to create incomes or productivity that goes much beyond what can be achieved by farmers on their own land. Another problem is that these South African projects have required farmers to join together on “project-owned” land to receive benefits from their joint production; taking them away from their own work on home gardens and in their cropping fields – work that they inevitably view as primary and essential. This was not the case in the Bali project as farmers received the water on the plots they were already working.
As I have indicated, has made the Bali project particularly successful in developing “cash income from sustainable jobs” through a community participation strategy has been three factors that are hard to replicate in many developing country situations. One is the history of community organizations that have traditionally raised money from members of the community and functioned through an established form of consensus decision making, with financial penalties for failure to maintain participation. The second is the long experience of commercial agriculture in the region and the educational background of farmers that includes simple accounting necessary to participate in trading and making an income from the sale of farm products. The third is the extraordinary location of this site, tied in through short trips on paved roads to a large tourist industry and to international ports and airports. Without all three of these background conditions the “community group commercial project” model for development is a very risky strategy. The most likely outcome of such projects is that the aid organization wastes its money as the project fails. What makes most sense instead is to help farmers to increase the productivity of their land so that they can meet the food needs of their households without buying food – freeing up their meagre cash income for other necessities. The other aspect of this strategy is to meet environmental goals by developing sustainable agriculture strategies that do not require expensive inputs to produce good yields.
Bunch, Roland 1997, Two Ears of Corn: A Guide to People-Centered Agricultural Improvement, World Neighbours, Oklahoma
DWVA of Pursat and Kampong Chhnang and Morrow, Rosemary 2000, Permaculture and Its Impact: An Evaluation of a Three Year Project in Cambodia 1997-2000, Quaker Service Australia
Holt, Richard 2005, Towards Sustainable Landcare Practices in South Africa: Version Two, LandCare South Africa, Pretoria
Leahy, Terry 2009, A Permaculture Strategy for the South African Villages: Towards MDG7 – Environmental Sustainability, PI Productions, Newcastle, Australia
Leckie, L. and Susrusa, B. 2003, Survai dampak irigasi di 15 KPSP yang dibangun selama NBGIWSP [The impact survey on 15 tube well user groups started during the NBGIWSP], European Commission, Singaraja
Pretty, Jules 1995, ‘Participatory Learning for Sustainable Agriculture’, World Development, 23: 8, pp. 1247-1263
Zuryani, Nazrina 2007, Empowerment and Development Initiatives: Two villages from the European Union in North Bali, PhD Thesis, University of Newcastle, Australia