Photo: Kate Raisz
The crucial role of agriculture in the sustainable development of sub-Saharan Africa is now widely recognized. Mozambique is illustrative of why growth in this sector is so important. Despite many years of high GDP growth rates, the number of people living in poverty has not declined at all. The key reason for this is that 80 percent of the population is dependent on agriculture for their living, and productivity in this sector has hardly improved at all during the recent years of high GDP growth.
With this in mind, authors Milla Nyyssölä, Jukka Pirttilä and Susanna Sandström look at a group-based intervention, and assess what success it has had in promoting agricultural development in the WIDER Working Paper “Helping Poor Farmers to Help Themselves: Evidence from a Group-Based Aid Project in Mozambique“.
The agricultural intervention the authors look at is part of the Lutheran World Foundation (LWF) village development programme, set up in June 2008.The intervention focuses on several small villages in the Gaza region of Mozambique, and aims to improve the lives and welfare of the villagers. It pursues these objectives by attempting to improve local community support structures and enhancing community capacity.
In the case of agriculture, this attempt at capacity building entails the creation of farmer groups, training, and the setting up of demonstration farms for facilitating technology transfers. The government and the LWF provide the farmers with seeds, fertilizers, training and small amounts of equipment (such as axes, hoes and rakes).
What is different about this project compared to other similar ones is that it is a group-based project that takes place on a joint plot and attempts to foster a community approach to improving farming technology.
As farmers in Africa typically — and historically around the world — keep some of the yield from their harvests to use as seeds for the next season’s crop, the project is expected to eventually become self-sustainable. But it is naturally possible that farmers may experience some type of catastrophe and have to consume their whole seed stock one year; in such a case, continued assistance at some level may help to remove uncertainty and help speed up recovery in case of external shocks.
Nyyssölä, Pirttilä and Sandström aim to find out both what has been the effect of the project on farming strategies and the amount of crops harvested, as well as how has the village’s food security situation has developed since the beginning of the intervention and how villagers cope with food shortages.
To acquire the data necessary to make these judgments, the authors conducted extensive household surveys in six small villages, four of which were used as control groups, before and after the intervention. Residents were asked about their general living conditions and about factors directly relevant to the success of the project, such as uptake of the programme, food intake, and strategies for coping with food shortages.
Using the household survey data, the authors were able to generate the following findings:
The researchers finish by suggesting that the decline in effectiveness after a year, due to drought and delays in aid, shows that if permanent improvements in the livelihoods of those living in adverse conditions are to be achieved, constant and long-term view and practice of aid is required.
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This article previously appeared on the UNU-WIDER Recom (Research and Communication on Foreign Aid) website. It summarizes UNU-WIDER working paper no. 2012/88, “Helping Poor Farmers to Help Themselves: Evidence from a Group-Based Aid Project in Mozambique“, by Milla Nyyssölä, Jukka Pirttilä and Susanna Sandström.