The end of ECDD is just the beginning …

 

As we publish the final reports from the ECDD project, the Project Coordinator looks back over his last six years in the Comoros.

 

L'équipe ECDD

L’équipe ECDD

It seems like another age when I arrived in Anjouan in October 2007 to get the ECDD pilot phase up and running. I’d spent three months in the Comoros in 2005 leading a student project researching the causes and consequences of deforestation, and then worked hard to build the support and partnerships to make a longer-term intervention a reality. So my arrival was both the start of something new and the culmination of a lot of effort.

I remember fondly those early days when everything was new, I was able to spend much more time in the field, and there wasn’t the pressure of substantial funding and a large team and programme to manage. We started work in the first village, Kowé, in January 2008. Both Badrou and Siti were with me then, and both have since had kids that are frighteningly old already! We spent at least a couple of nights each week sleeping in the village, sharing mattresses with those who were generous enough to put us up. And during the day we discussed the livelihood and environmental problems the villagers were facing and planned our first intervention with the creation of a community vegetable garden.

Gradually the team grew as we expanded to our second village Nindri and recruited agricultural experts to manage our livelihood interventions. Moustoifa was another early recruit who is still with us, taking up the role of wise old owl in the team, as well as Misbahou, who evolved into our local coordinator and is now in the UK on a Darwin Initiative Fellowship. The expansion of both our intervention zone and our activities continued, and by 2010 the team was up to 20 and the initial annual budget of £40,000 had grown to over £300,000.

Our work in the field underwent a similar transformation since those early days. Whilst the vegetable garden made a lot of money, a large proportion of it didn’t go where it was meant to, and our participatory analyses were both too long and failed to give us the full understanding that we needed to devise appropriate interventions. It’s been a long process of trial and error evolving from those first stages, and of learning from our partners in the Comoros and in the region, particularly Madagascar.

Kitty, en action lors du tournage

Kitty en action lors du tournage

Now we are justifiably proud of our impact on rural livelihoods and agriculture in the Comoros: over 1800 farmers have been supported to improve their revenues in a sustainable manner, which makes around 10,000 direct beneficiaries when their families are included, and innovations that ECDD introduced are being reproduced by our partners in the Comoros and integrated into agricultural policy. Similarly, the forest maps and species distribution models produced by the ecological team – all unique for the Comoros – have been provided to the authorities for integration into national conservation planning and the creation of protected areas. Our work on collective natural resource management also laid down a first for the Comoros, with the development of a model for collective work based on voluntary labour – I was particularly delighted when we managed to learn from our early mistakes in Kowé to support the villagers in replacing their ageing water supply system and transform water availability for the entire village. Another personal highlight was seeing the impact of the Hadisi ya Ismaël film that was produced at the end of 2012 and drew on a lot of what we had learnt through the project to encourage more farmers to engage with our work and adopt sustainable agricultural practices. The film went viral in our intervention villages as well as winning the second prize at the Comoros inaugural international film festival.

We went through a lot of ups and downs to reach those achievements; working in the Comoros proved more challenging than I could ever have imagined. The large number of failed interventions is both testament to difficulty of working in the Comoros and one of the reasons why it took a long time to gain trust in the villages. The lack of social cohesion and respected power structures made all the work tricky, particularly the efforts at collective management, and the isolation of working in the Comoros produced many challenges. I am hugely grateful for the commitment of the different team members through the life of the project to stick at it through all the difficulties. That commitment and their skills shine through to anyone that meets them, something that never fails to make me proud.

 

The culmination of ECDD is of course the creation of the new NGO Dahari, which is now coming to the end of its first year of existence. We took a lot of care and time over the development of Dahari, and I think it’s perhaps the one aspect of the work where I can’t see where we could have made big improvements in the process we followed. We have a fantastic set of members who have voted an engaged and competent Conseil d’Administration (the French equivalent of a Board of Trustees). Several of the ECDD team that has benefited from so much training over the last few years have become employees of the NGO at the same time as the opportunity has been taken to bring in some fresh blood. And the NGO is launched with already a strong integration in its initial area of interventions, and key financial and technical partnerships already organised in the Comoros, in the region, and internationally.

 

The challenge for Dahari in the field is to integrate habitat and biodiversity protection measures into the landscape management model – something that is being explored through the adoption of a payment for environmental services system – whilst developing a better monitoring and evaluation framework and continuing to improve the agricultural support. And institutionally, the key will be to gradually improve the NGO’s functioning to leave it more and more independent of external support whilst continuing to build its profile in-country and in the region. I am confident that the necessary bases have been already laid for Dahari to achieve wide-ranging change in the Comoros into the future, and I aim to accompany Dahari in its first couple of years of existence to solidify those foundations.

 

So that leaves me with the job of thanking everybody who contributed to the success of ECDD and made the creation of Dahari possible. On behalf of the team I want to thank them all, from the beneficiaries who were patient with us as we learnt, to local and international partners and advisors who stuck with us during the difficult times. We hope that they are as proud as we are of the role they played in ECDD, and as excited about what Dahari can achieve in the future.

L'équipe Dahari - Janvier 2014

L’équipe Dahari – Janvier 2014

Developing a new NGO for sustainable development and environmental protection in the Comoros, step by step

NGO sustainable development Comoros

Brainstorming the need for a new NGO in the sector


The creation of a new NGO to build on the work of the ECDD project and play an important role in sustainable development in the Comoros will be one of the major legacies of the project. In this final phase of the current project funding we’ve been concentrating on laying down the foundations for this new organisation. Ahead of its formal launch at the end of the year, we thought we’d share with you the steps we’ve taken towards its creation.

In this blog I’ll go over the work and research that we’ve carried out so far, and in a second article in a couple of weeks I’ll fill you in on the results of all our strategic planning sessions and the exciting ideas that are being put in place for the organisation.

 
 

NGO sustainable development Comoros

A timeline exercise to learn lessons from other organisations, projects and important changes and events in the environmental and rural development sectors

Setting the broad framework
We’ve come a long way since 2009, when the funding from the Darwin Initiative of the UK Government began, and the decision was taken to create a new NGO in the sustainable development sector in the Comoros. We took the first steps towards this aim in March 2010 at the start of the funding from the French Development Agency, when we held a first NGO planning workshop with the participation of advisors from the project partners, as well as WWF, Conservation International, and Birdlife International. This set the broad framework for the NGO, including preliminary vision and mission statements for the organisation, and planned out the activities required towards its creation. One aspect that was discussed was the legal framework for the NGO, and with that in mind we engaged a consultant in November 2010 to do an analysis of the different options for the structure of the NGO, and their basis within Comorian law.

 
 
Learning lessons from our partners
The next step was to gather as much advice as we could from other local NGOs in the region so that we could learn from successes and the challenges they’ve faced, and ensure best practice as we moved forwards. During our exchange visits to Madagascar in the first half of 2011 we met with a wide range of Malagasy NGOs to learn about how they had developed, and get their key recommendations based on their experiences. The organisations that kindly gave us time and advice included Fanamby, Asity, l’Homme et l’Environnement, the REPC, Mitsinjo, and Madagascar Voakajy. Some of the key lessons we took from these discussions included:

  • Develop a strong brand and professional communication tools from the start of the NGO
  • Ensure to have a few activities running from the start, with clear, measurable results
  • Recruit a small executive team for the first phase of the NGO to facilitate decision-making and allow flexibility and dynamism as the NGO develops
  • Don’t overstretch at the beginning, both in terms of activities, the number of personnel, and the complexity of procedures required by the first funders
  • Expatriates often have an important role to play in the first phases of a local NGO, particularly with technical support and the search for funds

NGO Sustainable development Comoros

The ECDD team with trainser from the Réseau des Educateurs et Professionnels de la Conservation who we made contact with in Madagascar.

Equally important was seeking lessons and advice from some of the success stories of local NGOs in the Comoros. During early to mid-2012 we held discussions with UCEA, Maeecha, CAP, ASCOBEF, and Ulanga Ngazidja. We were very grateful for their generosity in the time they gave to us, and also the enthusiasm they showed for the development of a new NGO in the sector in the Comoros. We were also grateful for advice from Initative Développement, a French NGO that has worked in the Comoros for over a decade and helped with the creation of UCEA, Maeecha, and CAP.

The discussions were very helpful, and we took another set of important lessons more specific to the context of the country, including:

  • Separate members of the NGO and particularly of the board of trustees from paid employees, in order to avoid conflicts of interest
  • Involve members from Grande Comore and Mohéli, and seek to develop activities there from the start, even if most initial work is concentrated just on Anjouan, so that the NGO is seen as a national organisation
  • There are few funding sources in the Comoros, but nonetheless it’s important to try and have a diversity of funders to avoid dependency – one way of doing this is to have actions covering different domains, another is to develop revenue-generating activities
  • Be clear on the role of the members and ensure that each member has a role to play outside of general assemblies, and are engaged in the activities

NGO sustainable development Comoros

The first meeting of the steering group

A steering group to lead the development of the NGO
In May we brought these lessons and results together in a small workshop involving the project partners to discuss the process to follow towards the creation of the NGO by the end of 2012. The critical decision taken was to adopt two tools that had proved important in the development of some of the Comorian NGOs:

  • The elaboration of a partnership transfer agreement between the international partners and the local NGO which clearly lays out the date of transfer of different responsibilities for, amongst others, equipment, personnel contracts, communication tools such as websites, and the management of activities. It is envisaged that this will be developed and signed in the first three months of the NGO’s existence.
  • The creation of a steering committee involving members external to the project with a mandate to guide and organise the creation of the NGO until the first General Assembly.

Whilst the creation of the NGO will be one of the key results of the ECDD project, it is a structure that will be independent of the project and the international partners. It was therefore important that external members formed an important part of the committee, and that responsibility for the development of the NGO was transferred from the project to the committee at its first meeting. We also wanted to ensure the success of the future NGO by combining young, dynamic members of the local team with others with more experience and contacts, who hold important posts in the agricultural and environmental sector in the Comoros.

The steering committee was created in August 2012, and the first meeting held at the end of the September. We were delighted that all those invited to sit on the committee accepted:

So that brings us just about up to date. Over the last two months the committee has been developing the strategic plan for the NGO, and a final meeting to validate the work will be held at the start of December. We’re looking forward to finalising the NGO’s mission statement, identity and initial strategic direction during this meeting – and we’ll keep you up-to-date with the results.

NGO sustainable development Comoros

The members of the NGO creation steering committee, clockwise from top left: Daniel Mohamed Salim – Ecological technician with the ECDD project , Misbahou Mohamed – Island Coordinator for the ECDD project, Sitti Atthoumane – Advisor within the Anjouan Governor’s office and ex Commissaire de l’Agriculture et de l’Environnement, Ali Ahamadi – Director of the Union des Sanduks (micro-credit institution), Mariama Anthoy – Director of Agricultural Strategy at the Ministry for Agriculture and the Environment, Kitty Brayne – Communications and Development Manager for the ECDD project, Hugh Doulton – National Coordinator for the ECDD project, Houmadi Houssen – Team leader for the PNDHD project in Mohéli (FIDA), and Dr Donat Mandiangu – Professeur de loi à l’Université des Comores (Patsy). Not present in picture: Dr Ansoufouddine – a leading medic in Anjouan and Siti Mohamed – NGO development officer and technician with the ECDD project.