PARTICIPATION BY ALL: The Key To Sustainability of CRS/ Niger’s Food Security Project
Valuing Voices is delighted to share our sustainability evaluation of Catholic Relief Service Niger’s PROSAN project. This project that ran from 2006-2012 in Niger and was implemented by three NGOs: CRS, Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere (CARE), and Helen Keller International (HKI) under the direction of United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Office of Food for Peace (FFP) as a multi-year assistance program (MYAP) to support food security activities in the Dosso, Tahoua, and Zinder regions. PROSAN focused on increasing agricultural production and agro-enterprise, improving household health and nutrition status, reinforcing the capacities of health agents, and enhancing community resiliency.
Here are the highlights from the report which itself is an excerpt from a longer analysis we did. Also please note one Annex highlights the similarlties/ differences we found to USAID/ FFP's 4 elements of sustainability:
AIM, METHODS, AND RESEARCH QUESTIONS
The aim of this sustainability evaluation was to explore perceptions of sustainability from Nigeriens involved in PROSAN, former CRS staff and donors. It focused on evaluating participants’ adherence to project outcomes and their creation of new innovations. It also evaluated partners’ involvement in sustaining project outcomes.
This evaluation used qualitative and quantitative methods including community mapping, focus group discussions, beneficiary interviews, and key stakeholder interviews. The evaluation was carried out in six communities in the Dosso region, with more than 500 interviewees, focusing on the following research questions:
1. Sustainability of activities and groups: Are the communities sustaining the activities three to five years after the end of the project? What can we learn from the communities and their post-project implementation partners?
2. Spread and unexpected outcomes: If the project was considered a success in the eyes of the community, how well did it spread?
3. Fostering Sustainability: What are the long-term prospects for continued sustainability?
Three years after PROSAN’s conclusion, the project was considered a success by community members, national partners, the implementer (CRS), and donor (USAID) staff. The main findings include:
1. SUSTAINABILITY OF ACTIVITIES AND GROUPS
Eighty percent (80%) of all activities were reported to have become self-sustained and community innovations have emerged:
• On average, households reported moving from being food secure for 3-6 months per year during PROSAN to 8-12 months at the time of this evaluation, which is a remarkable impact.
• Women reported greater income through the increase in sales of food that was produced and processed due to the grain mills.
• Respondents also reported improved household health, hygiene, and nutrition, with 91% of survey respondents indicating that their health and sense of well being had improved, especially through the efforts of the health posts and clinics that CRS helped build and the government of Niger’s efforts in sustaining them with resources and staff.
Community groups/committees have continued and are well-supported by NGO partners:
• 81% of the committees set up by PROSAN were functioning at the time of this evaluation, with many participants discussing ways to sustain best practices within their communities, and members still receiving regular trainings or updates.
• Several new and refresher trainings come through national partners, NGOs, and new channels such as radio programs.
• Some new NGOs and international organizations have built upon PROSAN’s success, for instance, by using land previously managed by PROSAN for a new vegetable gardening training program, building hygiene programs on past health awareness efforts, or extending agricultural credit for further inputs.
Twenty percent (20%) of implemented activities were not sustained or have stagnated:
• While hygiene practices were sustained by households and there was widespread latrine construction, sanitation was poor in the villages, and most latrines had fallen into disrepair.
• Fewer than 50% of women reported practicing exclusive breastfeeding for children less than six months of age.
• While almost half of all health committees no longer exist, new health clinics staff have replaced some of the work of the committees with health and agricultural promotion messages now being sent via radio, television, and cell phones.
• Literacy training and theater groups have completely ceased.
• With the exception of the Système Communautaire d’Alerte Précoce-Réponses aux Urgences’ (SCAP-RU) SCAP-RU early warning system which has expanded, other resilience activities such as roadwork and caring for the environment are a lesser priority due in part to the lack of food and cash-incentives to continue doing them.
2. SPREAD AND UNEXPECTED OUTCOMES
New innovations and ceased activities reflected the project’s legacy:
• Community innovations have emerged such as collective funds paying for cleaners of the new health center, community-imposed sanctions for births occurring outside of the health centers, and the monitoring of savings from well water sales.
• National partners have praised the project, with many lamenting its withdrawal. One non-PROSAN village told an Agriculture Ministry staff and potential NGO partner that “No one should bring a program here unless it is like PROSAN.”
• PROSAN-trained masons, well repair technicians, and village youth have learned land recuperation techniques (zai holes, bunds and demi-lunes) that helped generate income beyond project communities.
• Project activities that received free inputs have largely stopped being implemented once the incentives were withdrawn such as Food for Training (FFT), Food for Work (FFW), or Cash for Work (CFW) (e.g. literacy, seedlings, latrines, theater etc.); nonetheless the inputs were highly valued and have continued to support agriculture and health (carts, bicycles).
3. FOSTERING SUSTAINABILITY
The following areas were identified as potential barriers to sustainability that could be systematically explored in other projects:
• Although most committees are still functioning, there are no processes in place to engage and train youth and new inhabitants of the villages.
• While village communities have been maintained, there is an increasing lack of ministry resources (e.g., staff, transportation, and communications) to take the place of NGOs like CRS after a program ends.
• There is little management of knowledge around project data, which is further exacerbated by staff changes in NGOs, government ministries, and donors. Project data (proposal content, monitoring data, evaluation results, participant lists, partner names, and exit agreements) must be managed ethically, locally and be held online, accessible for future projects to use and for villages to conduct self-evaluations.
 Percentages were calculated as a combination of the number of activities that had been continued and the percentage of participants which continued them.