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An interview with Khalid El Harizi, Cambodia’s IFAD Country Programme Manager

Display Date: 7/18/13

Mr Khalid El Harizi has been involved in the design and management of agriculture and rural development programs for more than 30 years. Trained as an agronomist and agriculture economist, the French-Moroccan thinks deeply about development issues; specifically, he seeks to understand the factors that empower rural people. Since joining the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) in 1991, he has tirelessly translated his thoughts into action in countries all over the world. During his two years as IFAD’s Cambodia Country Program Manager, he has introduced to the Kingdom new initiatives aiming at helping some of the poorest farmers.

In this interview he explains further:


IFAD has been present in Cambodia since 1996, and has financed projects worth many millions of dollars, yet, it is still not widely known. How do you explain it?

There are two key reasons for this – IFAD’s size and our organizational approach.

Although IFAD is quite big compared to some NGOs, it is relatively small compared to other international organizations such as the World Bank or the Asian Bank for Development. Nowadays, we focus on working with these larger partners who co-finance our projects. This allows us to manage up to 40 or 50 million dollars, which can directly benefit up to 100.000 households. But we have only one program like this every three years.

Secondly, we have a bottom-up approach. This means that we work closely with local communities, commune or district authorities but we have very few activities at sector level. As a consequence, we are well known where we work, but because the media don’t heavily publicize our programs, not so much in big cities.


In a nutshell, could you describe IFAD for people who have never heard about it?

IFAD is a fund which helps governments of developing countries to invest more heavily, and more effectively in agriculture and rural development. IFAD’s specificity is its focus upon the beneficiaries - they are generally among the poor and small holders in the rural areas in each country where we work. We look for the potential for agricultural development, which we can use as a leverage to help them lift themselves out of poverty. In this context, empowerment of people, especially marginalised groups such as women, youth and indigenous peoples, is at the centre of our work.


What about the history of IFAD’s work in Cambodia?

IFAD has managed to remain relevant in a rapidly changing Cambodian context because it benefits from deep-rooted links with the country’s rural realities, and from the trust earned with farmers and decision makers. Visibility is perhaps not high but confidence is. Likewise, IFAD was one of the first ones to develop a decentralized approach that has since been adopted as national policy. It fits perfectly with our desire to work from the bottom up.

Our work in Cambodia seeks to organize poor communities within villages. We focus upon offering three kinds of services:

1.     Infrastructure (i.e. roads, irrigation systems, drinking water systems, etc.) to link those villages to markets;

2.     Training and basic technologies such as seeds, treatments for vegetables and animals diseases;

3.     Providing financial capital to villagers.

This last point is crucial. For farmers who own only a few acres of land and rely upon agriculture, escaping poverty is extremely difficult. Our projects try to make the most of the land capital which exists, but at the same time substitute financial and human capital for a lack of land. Financial capital and assistance with management mean that village groups can loan money to their members for productive or even emergency needs. It is most important to generate increased financial income, whether this is through cattle and fish farms, rice and vegetables production or even non-land based activities as handicrafts. In combination, these activities create income streams that provide a better level of social and economic welfare.


The most recent project that IFAD has launched in Cambodia is called PADEE, for Project for Agricultural Development and Economic Empowerment. It is implemented in 5 provinces (Svay Rieng, Prey Veng, Takeo, Kandal and Kampot). Could you tell us a little more about it?

Implementation of PADEE started in June 2012 and will run over the next five years, with a total budget of 43 million dollars, 35 million of which is provided by IFAD. It will work directly with almost 50,000 small and poor farming households, to raise productivity and incomes. These households will receive a full package of services that includes financial assets and training. In addition, up to 100.000 other families will be offered training.

Allow me first to expand on the issue of small farmer innovation, which is extremely important. We talk about a learning process. When you introduce an innovation, first people will lose a little efficiency and then, gradually their income will increase. The performance does not relate immediately to the level of innovation. Take someone who is learning to ride a bicycle. He will fall several times. Walking was better for him! That little regression before improvement is at the essence of the learning process.

However, for people who are on or below the poverty line, that regression is very costly. It could make the difference between eating and not eating. Poor people don’t have any margin for learning, or for error, which makes the adoption of new technologies very risky. Therefore they need some help. By providing things such as financial capital, field schools and advice, we enable these people to have a safe learning environment during the transition.

In the past where we had to deal with massive poverty and where a one size fit all approach was good enough to obtain results. For example we would distribute some seeds and fertilizers to enable farmers to produce their own food. Today, the general improvement in farmers living conditions and income and a much more diversified population of farmers we are dealing with from those who are still at a subsistence levels to those who are actively participating in the market, oblige us to diversify our offer of services and to customize them to each particular category of farmers


What kind of innovations do you offer to these poor farmers?

We offer a whole range of inputs and practices that contribute to better productivity for small plots. These can include innovations linked to: the planting material, varieties of seeds, crops technics, the use of fertilizers, integrated pest management, poultry and livestock production or health.

Innovations are not always things that did not exist before, but can also be techniques or knowledge that some farmers didn’t have access to. Indeed, we have many innovations in terms of services delivery. These farmers tend to be isolated. How can we offer them these services at an affordable cost? Within a constantly changing context, we must continue to evolve and be able to offer tailor-made solutions – that’s a big challenge.


What are the perspectives for the future?

As mentioned previously, because Cambodia has made enormous progress in terms of infrastructure (roads, communication, irrigation, etc.) our model also evolves constantly. People are better linked to markets and it has become easier for them to get supplies, information or to sell surplus. Therefore, in our last projects, we didn’t include any infrastructure component. Today, the most difficult issues are no longer ‘hardware’ related, but instead relate to the ‘software’–behaviour and knowledge. In addition there are still significant challenges in financial dimensions – despite huge improvements with microfinance development all over the country, the fact is that IFAD focuses on people who are not targeted by financial institutions.

Secondly, the farmers with whom we work are developing higher levels of sophistication, and so their information needs and agricultural practices become more complex. We then have to improve our delivery systems. In response to this, we increasingly rely less on public structures than upon agents such as NGOs or international organizations, who supply services in cooperation with public institutions. One of the purposes is to reach many more people.

A third trend is a rapidly changing market. Previously, the focus was on production – selling of surplus once the farmer’s needs are fulfilled. Instead increasingly, we work more on diversification of production, which allows farmers to produce items with higher added value. What we observe is a transformation of farms so that from the start they intend to respond and adapt to the market’s demands. Today, farmers learn to know, to manage and to respond to this demand.


For how long, have you noticed this transformation in Cambodia?

The trend of diversification and adapting to market demand is not entirely new. There have always been farmers with this approach. But since 2008, a rise of agriculture products prices has led to an acceleration of this phenomenon. At this time, exports are encouraged. It’s a long term trend. IFAD is aware that some farmers are in a good position to modernize their farm. For sure, there were and there will be some failures. But IFAD is committed to support the ones who have the potential to conduct such a transition, with the idea remaining to reduce poverty.


IFAD has conducted a wide scope of projects for many years. Among them, you have certainly encountered failures…

If we look at the targeted goals, we do not see any real failures. Globally, results are positive. We have been able to adapt our models and diversify our offers. The country itself has diversified and we have succeeded to address this challenge.

But there is still one enormous challenge remaining: the institutional framework. In fact, the institutional landscape in Cambodia remains weak. Needs are so urgent and there is still much work to be done. And in its investment policy, the government did not have sufficient means to finance programs for institutional rebuilding. Executives have low-qualifications and most of the time are underpaid. Many of them flee to the NGO or private sectors. The agriculture, sector suffers from this as well. A key for sustainable development in the future is to build an adapted institutional framework able to manage a sector more and more complex and diversified.

IFAD is deeply committed to address these problems. All together, we have to improve institutional capacities. We have to think about this together.


Among IFAD’s projects, what are the greatest successes?

The Rural Poverty Reduction Project (RPRP), implemented between 2003 and 2011 in Svay Rieng and Prey Veng provinces, was particularly successful. More than 120.000 households, among the poorest ones, have been empowered to increase food production and incomes by diversifying and intensifying production and by managing natural resources in a sustainable way. It has also improved their capacity to plan and manage development.

 Among our most widespread successes is to have mainstreamed gender in all of our projects. This is extremely important, because in village groups there is not only parity but a majority of women. In our PADEE program, out of 90.000 households, twenty five per cent are headed by women.

Above all, the fact that we have empowered people, that we have helped them to become emancipated, to think about their problems and to solve them, is the real criteria by which we judge our achievements. This is what IFAD does best: find ways for people to overcome problems by themselves.


IFAD in figures

-       In Cambodia, IFAD assistance represents about 1% of overseas development assistance overall, but 14% in the agriculture and rural development sector.

-       Six closed projects disbursed $US62 million and reached more than 10% of all poor households.

-       Portfolio of on-going projects amounts to 105 million dollars.

-       Direct beneficiaries of closed and on-going projects: 316.000 households.

-       PADEE direct beneficiaries: 90.000 households, including 23.000 women-headed ones.