As some of you might wonder if development work is really achieving something in the field, I like to share information about the Waterpoint & Extension Station Establishment project in Mongolia. Of course, as in real life, some things go wrong and some things go right, but after a number of field visits I’m sure that this project contributed to a large extend to sustainable rural development in Ovorkhangai province.
Herders, joined in herder groups, started small businesses after making a business plan and receiving funds. At the start of the project, herders could apply for a (new or rehabilitated) water point in their region and the most urgent places were selected by the project together with the local government. To ‘receive’ a water point, the herders in the region had to form a herder group and raise funds from themselves to finance 10% of the costs to construct a water point. This assured a well-committed herder group. During the construction of the water point and afterwards, the herder groups were supported in two ways:
1. Pasture improvement: together with the local government, agreements were made (and signed!) about legal use of the pasture around the water points. The herder groups made a pasture plan to use the local available pasture in a sustainable way, so the degradation would stop (and even better; the pasture would improve). This means stopping the overgrazing of the pasture by animals and search for an optimal livestock production based on what the pasture can deliver.
2. Stimulate small businesses: all herder groups could hand in a business plan to the project and receive (part of) the requested budget they needed for starting this small business. The businesses could be to start growing potatoes, to fence fields to grow hay, to buy a wool comb to produce felt products, to start a bakery, and so on. In total 66 business plans were handed in and almost all of them received funds. Furthermore, the herder groups received money for a revolving fund, from which small loans to individual herder group members could be given for a low interest.
Combined with efforts to improve the extension stations (agricultural advisory points from government) in all the villages where the project works, together with the National Extension Agency, the herders not only have their own means to improve their situation, but are also supported by their local and national government! This led to very enthusiastic herder groups that see all new possibilities and start to improve their income tremendously.
Organisation of the project
Behind the scenes, a temporary organisation runs the whole project with making use of the available budget. Funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the Ministry of Agriculture and Light Industries (MofALI) and the Ministry of Finance (MoF), this project is one of the pilot projects to increase income of the rural population. The project focuses on one of the 21 provinces (aimags) of Mongolia, called Ovorkhangai. Ten out of nineteen villages (including surroundings) are target villages (soums), and a total of 74 herder groups are spread over these ten villages. On average, 12 herder group members complete one herder group, though most of the time family members join the group ‘unofficially’ as well.
The project is coordinated by a unit in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar, called the PMU (Project Management Unit). In the capital city of Ovorkhangai, the implementation unit is seated, called the Project Implementation Unit (PIU). Both units are composed of Mongolian experts and foreign experts, to ensure exchange of knowledge and skills and successful implementation of the project. The foreign experts are hired through VSO Mongolia based on their expertise and receive a local salary. This assures a good mentality for both foreign and Mongolian colleagues who are equal in all aspects now.
The herder groups are coached in several aspects, as mentioned before. The foreign and Mongolian experts visit the herder groups regularly to train them on bookkeeping & finances, business plan writing & implementation, increasing livestock yields, adding value to and marketing of their agricultural products and community based services, besides other aspects on water point maintenance and pasture. Mongolian knowledge, combined with foreign presentation techniques (mainly more participatory) and ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking, leads to nice results during trainings and workshops. As most Mongolian people are literate, hand-outs and written information completes oral information given during the training. The water point building is even developing into a small library with interesting documents.
Hope this gives the critics of development work an idea about how a project can contribute to a sustainable and market-oriented development. More information will be published on the website of the project in a few months.