One of the biggest challenges for agriculture and rural development projects in the Pacific Islands, especially those with a strong community-driven development agenda, is the effective and efficient delivery of goods and services to remote rural communities.
Delivering social infrastructure, in the Solomon Islands Rural Development Project (RDP), for instance, has proven to be time consuming and expensive. In the RDP communities are given the responsibility not only for selecting, designing and building infrastructure, but also for procuring their own goods (e.g. timber for a school, pipes for a water supply, cement for a wharf). Seems simple enough but consider procurement typically involves one or more members of a community traveling to Honiara, getting at least 3 quotations, submitting these to the project office for approval, placing the order, and if the communities lucky enough having the goods delivered to their door step, or at least their beach front. What might otherwise take days or weeks takes months, sometimes as long as 6 months or more, and can involve repeat visits to Honiara to clear up unresolved procurement matters.
As a result the delivery of social infrastructure component of the RDP is not only behind schedule but is also proving to be very expensive. A simple solution would, possibly, be to have the project rather than communities do the procurement. It would certainly save time and money especially if the project could bulk purchase goods. However, while attractive, it could also undermine the community-development agenda of the project. After all the idea is to enable communities not the project to manage their own development, which happens to include procuring their own goods.
The RDP comes to an end pending an extension in 2014 and plans are already afoot to design the next phase. IFAD and it's partners, if they are going to get a bigger community development bang for their buck, are going to need to take a serious look at the procurement issue. May be there is a case for compromising on the community-driven development agenda if simply for the sake of achieving more effective and efficient delivery of much needed infrastructure to remote rural communities, in the Solomon Islands and elsewhere in the Pacific for that matter.