The Sustainability of Aid: The Case of the Vi Agroforestry Programme

Published on September 10, 2012 | Author: Razvan Sandru

Past evaluations of phased-out aid operations, although few, have shown that only a few projects or project results are sustained after phase-out. To contribute to filling this gap in the literature and ensuring that international development operations contribute to sustainable development, this thesis carries out such a sustainability assessment of the Vi Agroforestry Programme (VIAFP), a Swedish actor in the aid sector.
 
By combining an interview study and a policy analysis, the research uses the practice of phasing out support and the experience during the latter (extensive) phase of the Programme as indicators for sustainability. The phase-out methodology, which was developed by the Eastern Africa Office of VIAFP, was found to be both flexible and coherent, when it comes to withdrawing staff from the communities. Furthermore, the criteria to phase out and graduate a farmer group are not only based on the timeline of the project, but also on the capabilities of the group and the context that it works in (if there are any other sources of support available, for example). These aspects lead to an increased sustainability of VIAFP’s work, as the Programme makes sure that the farmer groups can cope with a phase-out before terminating support.
 
During the extensive phase of the Programme in which staff is gradually reduced, farmer groups face a multitude of challenges, which they need to overcome in order to graduate. The fact that all graduated groups overcome these challenges is a sign for their likely ability to overcome future challenges as well. Some of these challenges include aspects of organisational capacity (leadership, accounting, group management), practicalities and technical difficulties (need for specific seeds, means of transport, communication), funding and other challenges like the reluctance to change practices, culture and traditions, a low educational level, the short planning horizon of farmers, and land management and tenure, including women’s rights. Aware of these difficulties, the Vi Agroforestry Programme is actively training farmer groups to increase their capacity of overcoming these challenges.

Although sustainability is an important aspect of their work, the Vi Agroforestry Programme has to date not finalised any sustainability study after phase-out. It worked on the rationale that measuring the progress during the aid operations will tell about its likely sustainability after the end of these operations. There are in fact several signs that lead to the conclusion that VIAFP’s work is sustainable. These signs comprise (1) the examples in which VIAFP learned from the past and improved their procedures (organisational learning), like in the cases of developing a flexible and coherent phase-out methodology and adding new components like lobbying and advocacy, climate change and organisational development; (2) the long-term perspective on support (at least 6 years), which is at odds with the usual short-term project-based development work; (3) the fact that all graduated groups overcome the challenges of the extensive phase; and (4) the emergence of community-based or non-governmental organisations out of these farmer groups that continue the work of VIAFP in their communities.
 
However, aspects of sustainability within the Programme’s work could be further improved by, first and foremost, carrying out (quantitative) evaluation studies of groups that have been graduated for at least three years. Further, the role of VIAFP after phase-out needs to be reconsidered to move away from being a donor to being a partner. This rethinking should encompass the practice of financing farmer groups after phase-out and the focus on civil society while neglecting a strategic cooperation with government actors. The lack of financial sustainability of emerging community-based or non-governmental organisations and the lack of equal rights by women are also serious challenges for sustainability, which should be addressed by the Programme.
 
Sandru, R. (2012). The Sustainability of Aid: The Case of the Vi Agroforestry Programme. Master’s Thesis. Department of Earth Sciences. Uppsala University.
 
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