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

Dahari offers hands-on support to 400 farmers on Anjouan

During its first year of work in the Comoros Dahari has offered meaningful hands-on support to around 400 of Anjouan’s farmers.This means that around 2,000 people – including the farmers and their family members – have benefited from our work programme. This has been achieved alongside our efforts to develop as an organisation, to establish our place in the Comorian institutional landscape and to pursue financial security. To best provide this support, a team of six technicians have set up home in the villages where we intervene, and they have spent 80 per cent of their time out in the field.

Dahari’s first set of impressive results has come from its training courses in potato cultivation both in and out of normal planting season. Eleven demonstration plots in four villages were set up in partnership with some of Anjouan’s most enthusiastic producers in order to demonstrate techniques to improve yields, such as drip irrigation, compost production, and fertilisation.

These demonstration plots have also become learning centres for Farmer Field Schools. The 147 participants who signed up not only received high-quality potato seeds thanks to Dahari’s partnership with CIRAD and FNAC-FA, but were also able to develop their skills through a set of five training sessions from the Farmer Field Schools, with a total of 40 training sessions taking place both in and out of season. Judging by the data we’ve gathered, we estimate that 37.5 tonnes of potatoes have been produced from the 7.5 tonnes of seeds that were distributed. This has generated estimated revenue of 102,000 Comorian Francs per beneficiary (equivalent of around 200 euros). We are grateful to the Swiss Embassy in Madagascar for funding our potato cultivation campaign (both normal and off-season planting), and the British High Commission in Mauritius for funding the off-season campaign.

 Alongside these efforts, Dahari has also provided support for campaigns to promote market gardening with the delivery of 7,500g of high-quality seed. Following the method described above, we have helped to set up 22 demonstration plots and have provided 231 producers with the seeds they need. In addition to this, producers have also been able to widen their skill sets by attending a series of six Farmer Field School training sessions, which have been held in nine different villages, with a total of 60 sessions taking place over the year. We are grateful to the Swiss Embassy in Madagascar and the Programme Frano-Comorien de Co-développement (PFCC – off season campaing only) for their support to our market gardening campaigns in 2013.

Despite some initial difficulties getting people involved, Dahari has managed to get 31% of our beneficiaries to attend at least 80% of sessions. We view this as a success, especially as no expense has been incurred, with producers attending the sessions without benefitting from per diems.

Dahari has also helped six entrepreneurs to open local agricultural input supply stores. All were given start-up stock and three technical training sessions on how to use phytosanitary products responsibly (so that they will be able to offer valuable advice when making a sale). We are proud to announce that, by the end of the year, each supply store had already had to renew its stock twice on average, and that five stores had chosen to carry on trading in 2014 (the sixth has now closed down). These stores were developed thanks to financial support of the PFCC.

In addition to this, Dahari has also run campaigns for hedgerow planting to reduce erosion and fertilise plots. We piloted a methodology based on getting the village committees to manage to the work and the sharing of tree cuttings amongst the beneficiaries, with those who had benefited in previous years providing cuttings to those in need. We focused our campaign on a single pilot village, and we were able to plant hedgerows on 12 plots. This is few, but we’ve learnt that circulating cuttings can be a good local alternative to costly hedgerow planting, particularly as the process can be managed in its entirety by local communities and doesn’t cost anything to run. In this vein, Dahari has continued to develop its approach to circulating the gliricidia cuttings generated by village committees.

We’ve also set out to get more young people and women involved in these activities, and to develop out-of-season crops, and we’re pleased to share the following results: on average, 32% of the people we work with (across all aspects of our agricultural support) are women.

Cultivation in the off-season is new to Anjouan, and an innovation that Dahari is promoting due to its high potential to increase farmer revenus. But it requires a high degree of techincal accomplishment and involves taking risks, so we are very happy that we were able to convince 67% of our potato beneficiaries and 30% of our market gardening beneficaries to cultivate in the off-season. Unfortunately this year we’ve not been able to record the average age of our participants (this will be done in 2014), but we have seen more and more young people getting interested in Dahari and its methods.

Building on this will be a priority for Dahari in 2014.

Dahari in Comorian civil society

 

Ibrahim Said, our Executive Director, talks to us about one of his key missions for the NGO’s developement. 

One of the key factors to Dahari’s success will be developing effective collaborations with the different civil society, state and scientific stakeholders in working in the Comoros in our domains of intervention. Developing partnerships with relevant individuals and institutions is therefore one of my top priorities in my role as Dahari’s Executive Director

In November 2013 I carried out field visits to build contacts with the Directors of the CRDE (Regional Centre for Economic Development), with representatives of local and regional governments, and with key figures in the various villages that we work in. I also set out to discuss how they could get involved with the events and working groups that we will be organising in the villages, with a view to supporting the coordination and evaluation of Dahari’s activities.

In addition, I met with civil society leaders and a selection of the NGOs that work in Anjouan, among them MAEECHA (Mouvement Associatif pour l’Education et l’Egalité de Chance), UCEA (Union des Comité de l’Eau d’Anjouan) and APEP (Association Pédagogique des Enseignants du Primaire). Our aim was to familiarise these organisations with Dahari’s work and discuss opportunities for collaboration.

These visits provided the opportunity to share details of our 2013–14 programme of activities and to highlight our links with different partners.

In the four villages located in the southern zone where Dahari works – Pomoni, Nindri, Kowet and Moya –I was welcomed by the Mayor of Sima Prefecture, the President of the Moya District Special Delegation, the Anjouan Governor’s Special Adviser and the Director of the Pomoni Police Force. All of the people I met showed a lot of enthusiasm for getting involved in Dahari’s activities. In my meeting with the Mayorof Sima, for example, we discussed Dahari’s next project in Pomoni, which will see us regenerate an area of irrigated land used by more than 40 vegetable growers. In Kowet, my meeting with the village’s key figures and members of the experienced water management group led us to remobilising the villagers to bury underground the main water pipeline in the village following the work undertaken by ECDD.

In Adda, I was met by the President’s Special Delegation and the Secretary General of the village Steering Committee. I then had the chance to visit some of the people that Dahari had helped in the village. With a population of 8,547 people working in agriculture (as estimated in the 2003 census), in addition to its proximity to the island’s main highway, Adda has provided Dahari with its best results to date.

I also visited the villages of Salamani and Nganzalé, as well as Outsa and Ouzini – the two villages up in the highlands in Nganzalé district.

 

Above and beyond our aim of making contacts at the heart of the villages that our NGO works to support, my field visits served to reinforce my awareness of the need to work alongside communities to ensure that we have a shared technical framework and regular provision for agricultural activities, as well as of the needs that community organisations have in terms of support in managing their water supplies and in their reforestation efforts.

Meet Amelaid and his passion : biodiversity

Having spent five years studying Biology, Ecology and Animal Conservation in Madagascar, Amélaïd returned to the Comoros to explore the biodiversity of the Islands of the Moon. He did volunteer work for a few organisations before he bumped into an ecologist who encouraged him to send his CV to the ECDD project, where he was recrutied.

So in 2009 Ameliad joined the ECDD team as a Biodiversity Monitoring and Research Technician. His objective was to set up the first long-term  monitoring of the Comoros’ fauna and habitat , especially endemic species. He also worked to produce the first high-resolution habitat (land cover) maps for the three islands, and istribution maps showing the spatiotemporal dynamic of bird species native to Anjouan. The results of his research have provided information on the current status of these species and also on the way they are distributed.

The results of his work with ECDD provide a foundation for subsequent monitoring of the populations and distribution of endemic fauna; the distribution maps of the islands’ native biodiversity serve as essential tools for students, researchers and tourists. The work is a long-term endeavour, where everything is constantly evolving, but he is certain that his mission will have a lasting impact. In carrying out his analysis, he ensures that the islands’ biodiversity gets its recognition. And it’s this recognition that ensures that it will be safeguarded.

Today, Amélaïd works with Dahari part-time while also teaching fish biology at Anjouan’s Fisheries school. When asked what he has learnt from the ECDD project, he says: ‘practice’. Ninety-five per cent of what he learnt at school was theory, and so seeing the reality in the field has strengthened his skills. But he is also grateful for what he’s learnt during training sessions, in particular the knowledge he’s gained from expats who have worked with the project.

Among the challenges of working in the field, Amélaïd lists the physical fitness required to scale the steep mountains, the efforts he’s made to integrate himself into the village communities, and managing the linguistic differences between the archipelago’s regions and islands.

This human connection is also what he defines as his ‘greatest success’: managing to become part of diverse communities and enjoying the connections he’s made. But he is also proud of his expert knowledge of Comoros biodiversity, in particular relating to birds.

He also feels that he has overcome his greatest challenge: when he arrived, he made his observations but there was no one in the local team qualified to analyse the biological data. As a result, he found a distance-learning course that would train him to carry out this task himself, and he was thus able to develop his skills through two years of complementary study for a Research Master’s in Wildlife Management.

Amélaïd becomes animated when discussing his work and tells us more. For example, he mentions a memorable moment that has stuck in his mind: the day that his fear of the forest at night disappeared. A few years ago, during a night-time expedition in the forest near to Ouzini with some students and a German researcher, the researcher fell ill. Naturally it was Amélaïd who turned back to find the nearest village, 4 kilometres away. He was very uneasy, to say the least… but after making a list in his head of all the fearsome animals (mygale spiders, venomous snakes, even tigers) that don’t live in the forest, he came to understand that his fear of the dark was unfounded. Nowadays he is much more relaxed and no longer fears what he cannot see.

So what’s in store for the future? Amélaïd’s dream is to be a great researcher and a prominent representative of Comoros biodiversity. He would like his work to be used by others as a reference tool, and hopes to find opportunities to share his knowledge internationally. But today, with Dahari, he hopes soon to be in charge of a project that will place him at the heart of the management of protected species. Indeed, the ECDD project has worked to understand the situations of different species and the threats that they face. Dahari, taking the reins in that area, must now focus on more concrete preservation work: for instance, Amélaïd hopes to devise a system to protect the roosts of the Livingstone’s fruit bat, an endangered species. And he certainly intends to succeed.

By chance ! Dahari just receiverCoup du hasard : Dahari vient de recevoir, fin décembre, une bourse de 8.000 euros de la part de la fondation Mohamed Bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, pour lancer ce projet pilote de protection des dortoirs de Livingstone. La suite? C’est Amelaid qui vous le racontera … http://www.speciesconservation.org/

The farmers of Adda talk about their experiences with ECDD

One month ago, I’ve been to Adda. It was the occasion to meet our farmers and to have a better understanding of their everyday life.

How did you get involved in the ECDD project

Saidin said that one-day, he saw a car in the village “with a white man in it.” He wondered what was going on, went to enquire, found out about the project and although he was not on the initial list of beneficaries, managed to get involved in the project.
For the others, they took part in meetings either after being invited or coming across them got quickly involved in the project.

What activities did you develop with the project, and what were the result?

The beneficiaries are mainly involved in the agricultural activities of the project. Some of them are now growing market gardening crops like potatoes, tomatoes, aubergines, carrots, peppers, others food crops such as bananas. Several of them combine these crops.

Returns differ according to each person and each plot. It does not mean that every attempt was successful, but they are unanimous: the results are there.
For example for Saidin, chilli was the main resource this year, gaining him anincome of 20.000francs per week over six months. For Kamlati or Ouséni, after planting 50kg of potatoes, they collected almost 300 kg of potatoes, including 50kg of seeds set aside for replanting during the next season.

What did you learn during the project ?

Our villagers all agree: they all consider the training and all the skills acquired the most valuable learning they got from ECDD. They feel more self-confident, and believe they have learnt the skills to enable them to be independent. Several also noted their ability to transmit these skills to others.

Saidin quotes more precisely the battle against erosion (through old unused tires), the preparation of compost and the construction of cattle parks … Kamlati emphasizes the techniques used to prepare seed nurseries, Ouséni speaks about the the spacing between plants to ensure better productivity, or the importance of crop diversification to keep his fields fertile and give him better yields.

What impact did the project have on your life?

The two women, Nasihuati and Kamlati, talk about the wayincreased incomes have helped them with paying to put their children into school . Saidin was able to buy a secondhand motorcycle, which allows him more movement in between his parcel in the centre of the village and those further away
Overall they all live a little better, and most of them are more confident in the future and more curious to try new crops and new techniques. Shibako is is optimistic for the future and is aware of all the improvements, but he also feels he’s too old now and regrets not being able to get more involved.

Nasuati est l’une des femmes agricultrices du projet ECDD

What are the challenges you are facing? What are the issues to be addressed in the future?

They are all unanimous on the major problem: access to water. For them, it is the central issue that needs to be resolved in the near future. How to do it, they are not sure. But there is already an irrigation zone in construction with Dahari, to provided water to the famers of the village.

Do you think that the support you received will have a sustainable impact?

Sustainability of the project comes through in the same way for each villager interviewed: the dynamic is sustainable since it is not just an occasional help, but a proper training. They feel ready to be independent, but most important they believe that the sustainable aspect of the project exists in their desire to share. Ouséni presented it nicely: “it is necessary to share themessage otherwise the project doesn’t make sense.” Although at the same time they all hope the NGO will stay here longer, to support them, and introduce them to other techniques or crops.

It is rare, however, to hear them talk about the sustainable protection of natural resources: it is not yet a priority. Their priority is to provide for their families and to work to live more comfortably. This doesn’t mean that they are not aware that there is work to be done on this side of things: Ouséni has already understood that he can make more by focussing on a small plot in the village than by creating a new field in theforest zone. Kamlati recognizes she still uses chemical fertilizers, but “only at 50 %.” The other 50 % has been replaced by chicken manure, and she aims to reduce the use of chemical fertilizers further.

Do you have a message to convey to your peersabout your experience with ECDD ?

Shibako has a message for the young people who “play football and dominoes”: they must get involved, and not stand idly by, they must act to improve their lives . He suggests that Dahari continues the momentum by creating a school to train young people in agriculture. Nasuiati wants people to consider the farming profession as a real job, where it is necessary to be serious and to train continuously in order to succeed. Puséni calls everyone to be part of this dynamic, “because it is exchanges and discussions that help a community to grow: we need everyone.” Kamlati is aware of the many benefits she received and invites people to work to get the same rewards.
In short, this development can benefit everyone if they have the desire and the ambition to learn how to improve agriculture on Anjouan .

Siti Mohamed talks about her five years with ECDD and her hopes for the new NGO Dahari

This blog is part of a series that we will be publishing over the next few weeks to round off the ECDD project. Here our new communications manager Coralie interviews Siti Mohamed, one of ECDD’s very first employees, who looks back over the last five years, and what needs to be achieved with the new NGO Dahari.

Siti studied philosophy for four years in Madagascar before changing tack to do a masters in sustainable natural resource management. On her return at the end of 2007 she responded to an ECDD recruitment that seemed to match her skills.
Her mission? Project facilitator. Siti covered five different villages during her time with the project, including Adda where she is currently working for the new NGO Dahari. Her field of activity has been varied; analyzing livelihood problems with the villagers, identifying with them different solutions to implement, and developing and implementing the selected activities. Her primary objective was to motivate as many villagers as possible to work with the project.
She was gradually trained in agronomy by ECDD. She also learned to speak up in meetings and in front of audiences, to run and animate meetings, to be heard by different audiences: in essence she feels that she has gained confidence in herself. She has also greatly improved her computing skills and is now able to create and manage databases. It has been a continuing education.
Her greatest source of personal pride ? The many different skills she has acquired from different trainings. And in the field? Knowing that her work has not been wasted, that she has worked with many satisfied villagers and that she can see the results.
Her biggest challenge has been to balance her status as a mother of two young children and her work – she spends up to four days a week in the field. But also to face the difficulty of getting villagers involved in the work, especially in her first village, Kowé, before there were visible results from the project.
Two memorable moments come to her mind. First, her assignment to the village of Moya which coincided with her first child, when she had to give a lot of herself . And the thanks from the villagers of Outsa after the success of the work to rehabilitate water infrastructure in the village. She’s really happy to see that in one of the poorest villages in the Comoros the Project has managed to improve many peoples’ lives and there is more money circulating thanks to the agricultural activities. People have been able to improve their living conditions, which was the main goal, and is a pleasure to see.
And how does she imagine the rest of her career? For the moment, she isn’t looking beyond Dahari. She is happy and she wants to stay in this field. However, she does not hide that she would like, in the future, to improve her skills and develop into a team leader. With the NGO Dahari , she wants to learn new things like project management and leadership.
She sees the ultimate goal of Dahari as to successfully train the villagers to empower themselves. People who are already part of the community should have more responsibility and take control of the activites in order to give more time for the technicians to promote the project. We need the agricultural groups that have been created to run themselves, to have their own rules to become stable and profitable. Someone in the village should be in charge of facilitating the NGO’s interventions, someone who would broadcast Dahari’s message and would serve everyone.
As for the sustainable impact of her work, she sees it in the technical support that has been provided and skills transfer . Because she has no doubt : everything will be transmitted to the neighbors, to the children, to the next generation. It’s a long process, but it will come step by step.