Money can’t buy me….. what, exactly?

December 19, 2012

Natural Disasters and Humanitarian Crises in 2012: how did we do?

December 19, 2012

Calling all Euro/Aid sceptics – here’s some top quality aid from the EU

December 19, 2012
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Oxfam programme researcher John Magrath (he’s the one on the left in the pic) has been looking at some European aid, and is impressedJohn & Quaker with what he found

European Aid gets a lousy press. If you’re a reader of the UK’s Daily Mail (and nearly 2 million Brits are) then you’ll be used to headlines such as “Dance lessons in Africa, jets for tyrants, derelict offices….how EU wastes aid billions“.

(I must pause this blog to say that merely checking the reality of the above headline on the Daily Mail’s website – where it is accompanied by a photo of a masked figure of what Westerners used to call an African “witch doctor” – has made me want to devote the rest of this post to a rant about the Daily Mail’s politics and attitudes….but…deep breath and back to EU aid…)

EU aid is currently under greater threat than ever in Europe’s acrimonious budget discussions – partly, it’s a useful way for Euro sceptics to attack the whole concept of the European Union and the list of anti-Europe stories (remember bent (or was it straight?) bananas etc).

Does EU aid deserve its reputation? DFID doesn’t think so, giving it good marks in its multilateral aid review. So it’s rather nice to be able to point to an EU-funded aid programme that really has done a lot of good – and indeed, is ahead of the game when it comes to thinking about what sort of aid works best. It didn’t make the headlines, but then, good news rarely does.

The European Union Food Facility (EUFF) was a €1bn fund for access to agricultural inputs and services, and improvements in agricultural productive capacity, set up in response to the increase in food prices from late 2007 through 2008.

In all, the EUFF funded over 240 projects in more than 50 countries. On 17 December, the EU published its own Final Evaluation of all the programmes. Oxfam took part in a big way in six EUFF programmes in Nepal, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Tanzania and Mali, as well as being part of consortia in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Kenya. Coincidentally, I’ve been looking through the end of programme evaluations we submitted and today we’ve published our own case study.

And what did we find? That the bold claims made for the EUFF in a press release on 2 December 2011 by WFP, FAO and IFAD seem correct. Their release said: “The EU Food Facility has been a tremendous success. It proves that linking relief, rehabilitation and development can have a concrete impact on people’s food security”. They added it “provided tangible evidence that investing in agriculture and nutrition improves global food security” and “by linking farmers to markets and financial services, assisting in facilitating sustainable and profitable farming practices and creating new revenue streams, the effects of the EUFF will continue into their futures”.

Indian seed fair

Indian seed fair

According to the release, “lessons learned from the initiative underscore the importance of:
-focusing on marginalized farmers with high production potential,
-combining input distribution with extension services,
-building capacities of smallholder farmers and their communities,
-rehabilitating rural infrastructures, and
-involving all actors of the value chain in local seed production.”

In Oxfam’s experience this approach really broke down the silos between humanitarian and long term development aid. In every country farmers faced the same or very similar obstacles. They needed certain basic inputs, in particular seeds and irrigation water; they required both access to markets and ‘power in markets’; they needed cash and/or credit; and they wanted services such as agricultural advice and veterinary help. So the vision and capacity to make multiple interventions – and at many levels – were crucial.

For the EU this approach has been rather a long time coming – about three years in fact –  but it’s nearly there. The EU’s 2010 Food Security policy aims to get all member states working this way, then this October the EU focused on “building resilience” and integrating humanitarian and development work . And now, finally, the long-awaited implementation plan for the food security policy should be endorsed by Development Ministers next May (2013) – and not a day too soon.

I summarised our interventions in this way, on a spectrum from emergency response to long term development:

Social protection

  • Collective cash-for-work for infrastructure (e.g. roads, dams, irrigation works, tree planting, re-greening, etc)
  • Unconditional cash transfers to meet food needs during the hungry season
  • Food vouchers and support to traders
  • Small livestock and veterinary services
  • Beneficiary involvement, agency accountability


  • Seeds, tools, feed, micro-irrigation,  seed banks, grain stores
  • Training on improved agricultural practices (e.g. composting)
  • Land rights
  • Access to credit
  • Stoves

Organizational development

  • Formal creation of producer groups; also irrigation management groups, grain store groups, pasture management groups, etc
  • Capacity building for new and existing groups
  • Emphasis on women’s groups and women’s involvement
  • Farmer to farmer
  • Scaling up and broadening out organizations

Power in markets

  • Business training
  • Value chain analysis, market information
  • Linkages with the private sector e.g. assistance in negotiations
  • Access to credit, bank loans, micro insurance

Convening and brokering


  • Linkages with state authorities and service providers at local, regional and national levels
  • Linkages with the private sector
  • Advocacy on budgets, policy changes, frameworks, etc, from local to national level

Not every programme achieved the same level of success but generally, the results were impressive. If you’ve an antipathy towards statistics, stop reading. If not, here goes…..

In Nepal the number of households facing acute food insecurity was reduced from 21 to 13 per cent and there was a significant increase ofbetween 40 and 70 per cent in productivity per hectare of major cereals and vegetable crops by targeted smallholder farmers. The programme supported 141 micro-irrigation systems which alone increased productivity by 50 per cent. Prior to the programme only 16 per cent of farmers used improved seeds, but, by 2011, 100 per cent were using them.

According to the evaluation: “Every household is now engaged in kitchen gardening and 72 per cent of families have been eating vegetables five days a week as against the previous time when only 27 per cent of families could eat vegetables for only two days a week”.

In Ethiopia, nearly 14,000 farmers were organized into 619 market-oriented co-operatives and producer groups and linked with service and input providers. Once they had the wherewithal, organization and confidence to grow more crops like malt barley and potatoes, they were linked to and able to negotiate with potential buyers in the nearest town. Twenty-nine Producer Organizations gained a contract to sell their barley to a brewery and malt factory at a rate 15 per cent higher than the local market price.  Seventy two per cent of beneficiaries reported that their income increased by over 30 per cent.

OK, that’s the statsfest over. Back to plain English – what worked well and why? The Ethiopia programme summed it up:

To succeed you need to:

  • collaborate with a wide variety of stakeholders, including the private sector;
  • design projects that are community-managed;
  • organize farmers into groups; and
  • provide a cash transfer so people can withstand shocks, keep assets and develop infrastructure.

EuropeAidIn one way, it sounds simple – putting into practice the three-fold support identified by Wiggins and Leturque as essential to liberate the potential of small farmers:

  • Stability in the face of price volatility and incentives to earn more money from farming;
  • Investment in public goods;
  • Strategies to overcome the problem of chronic failure in rural financial markets.

In other ways, though, a multi-faceted, multi-level intervention of this sort is fiendishly complicated and poses all sorts of managerial and logistical challenges.

Collaborating with many partners takes time, energy and resources and forging successful collaboration is time-consuming and laborious. Fortunately the Oxfam programmes concerned already had a strong presence in the areas going back many years and had strategic partnerships with local bodies. But the number and variety of meetings required almost make it sound like a parody of development work – familiarization workshops, consensus building training workshops, multi-stakeholder taskforces, thematic workshops, regional value chain development forums, taskforce forums, a national learning event etc etc. But this networking was key to the success of the programme.

So we would agree with WFP, FAO and IFAD: “As food prices are expected to remain high and volatile in the coming years, it is essential to maintain the momentum created by the EUFF in promoting agriculture as the most effective means of reducing global hunger and poverty…. ”.

It might also convince some people that EU aid isn’t all bad.

(The EU Final Evaluation concludes with the suggestion that the EUFF is made into a permanent “Stand-by” instrument. It makes sense to me, but I’ll let you know Oxfam’s official position once we’ve had a proper discussion here).

1 comment

  1. This is indeed good news and calls for more acknowledgement that EU funding can be effective and efficiently spent and timely disbursed, especially since it was a large amount. Let us hope and lobby for a facility that can give continuation to this success bridging food security and resilience work in the coming years.

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