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Empowerment and poverty reduction in rural communities – a case study on changes in civil society and local government practices and lessons for influencing pro-poor policy

Working papers

This paper was prepared for the international workshop "Understanding and addressing spatial poverty traps: an international workshop".

SAHA is a rural poverty reduction development programme that started in 2000 to support civil society actors in three regions of Madagascar. Its aim is to improve socio-economic well-being, and to promote social cohesion, solidarity and the sustainable management of natural resources. The programme’s approach is to link the development demands of community organisations with the supply of services by the private sector or civil society actors.4 Project facilitators play a crucial role in this approach, providing support to community organisations in formulating their demands and negotiating with local authorities and service providers. The facilitators are also responsible for communication and evaluation within each project. As a basic rule, SAHA subsidises 85% of services to these micro projects.

During the planning and design stages of the SAHA programme, two different types of areas were identified; “zones with potential” and “enclosed zones”. The criteria used to define these areas included factors such as economic stability, access to services and infrastructure, as well as specific criteria identified by the population itself for example, the duration of the lean period between harvests, access to land and local wages. Based on the above guidelines, plus the results of a participatory poverty assessment survey, three further categories relating to levels of poverty were identified; “poorest” ( ), “medium poor” ( ) and “less poor” (..). Monitoring and evaluation of the programme is designed on the basis of these categories.

Phase I (2000-04) was a learning phase. It followed a thorough evaluation of Swiss support to Madagascar and extensive preparation to outline a set of hypotheses relating to poverty reduction. Amongst other objectives, the principle of non-exclusion was to be put into practice. In applying to SAHA, interest groups and existing community organisations have to formulate their demands for micro project support in competition with others, and must give evidence that their project will be inclusive.

The evaluation of phase I carried out in 2003 shows that “poorest people”, as well as demands from “enclosed areas", were under-represented among the approved projects and that the needs in “enclosed areas" were different from those in “areas with potential”. These findings resulted in the adaptation of particular programme strategies for phase II (2004-06).

In “enclosed areas" a new focus was introduced, namely, social and economic vulnerability reduction and food security, which resulted in agricultural diversification, increased household savings and the promotion of sanitation and literacy. In phase II programme implementation became more flexible, facilitation efforts increased, the communication strategy was adapted and the requirements for project proposals were relaxed slightly, which meant this category had higher project costs than for those in areas with potential, and also compared with more conventional rural development programmes.

In phase II, micro projects belonging to more than 1,150 community organisations in 215 villages were being supported by SAHA. Some 123,000 people benefited directly from the programme. A household survey conducted in 2005 shows that 80% of households in the three regions improved in terms of their “physical and mental well-being”, and 37% improved their economic situation, 20% of which improved significantly. Of those households categorised as “poorest”, 60% were satisfied with the support provided by SAHA in relation to economic improvement.

SAHA has received more attention in the national development context, however the informal institutional setting established by the programme still remains fragile.

SAHA is currently in phase III (2007-09). With the view to ending the programme by 2012, another strategic shift has been identified as being necessary: the programme will move away from providing direct micro support to community organisations, to supporting boundary partners (government, civil society or private sector organisations) at the meso level. Of the overall phase III budget, 50% will be allocated to micro project support, 31% to capacity development of boundary partners, and the remaining 19% to implementation and administration costs associated to the projects.

Links at the national policy level are being intensified during phase III. A project collaborator is being seconded to the local Word Bank office in order to roll-out the SAHA approach within its rural programmes. Collaborations with the EU and IFAD have also been initiated.

To conclude, the differentiated spatial approach of SAHA for"enclosed areas" and for those "with potential" is not common practice in SDC, and neither is it common practice for other donors. It requires the willingness to apply a flexible implementation approach and higher project costs to ensure a degree of inclusiveness, however the SAHA approach can be seen as good practice.

Reto Wieser