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The delivery challenge - getting goods to remote rural communities in the Pacific Islands

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.

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This is is Andrew McGregor from Koko Siga Fiji. Vinaka Dan for the identification of the issue of the tradeoff between the delivery of project infrastructure and the sustainability beyond the project. I suggest the problem arises from the design of many community development projects in Pacific that have unrealistic expectations on the capability and desirability of communities to be involved in complex activities such as procurement. A more efficient and sustainable approach would to focus on the development of individual business/entrepreneurial capability to provide these services. At the end of the day what an isolated community wants is the delivery of infrastructure in the most timely and cost effective manner.

Posted on 11/17/12 12:24 AM.

Hi Andrew; good point. Part of the challenge with the RDP is that it provides for both social and economic infrastructure. There's perhaps less incentive for communities to get involved in providing social infrastructure (e.g. clinics, schools, etc.) not least because this is something (communities understand) government should be providing; in the case of economic infrastructure (e.g. water supply, roads, wharves, etc.) there may be more willingness to get involved. But either way there needs to be a simpler, as you say, more timely and cost effective delivery system. In the IFAD designed and now being implemented Tonga Rural Innovation Project (TRIP) the complexity is reduced by focusing on economic infrastructure and by centralising procurement. We are going to have wait and see just how this project performs … but I'd say it's likely to have a much speedier delivery record.

Posted on 11/17/12 10:52 AM in reply to Andrew Maxwell McGregor.

This is Sheikh Mohsin , Project Director , Sunamganj Community Based Resource Management Project(SCBRMP) Bangladesh. Thanks Dan to share the experience. In SCBRMP more than 150 Km of community roads and other labor intensive works are done by the communities , we call LCS ( Labour Contracting Society) with opposite impression . We found the delivery is quick with quality and within schedule time. I think the works that need less engineering skill and with some capacity building training and also their own interest on the profit of execution can smooth the delivery. Joint effort is needed to solve the procurement issue from community as well as project to minimize the problem. Some time Engineering design and also Approval procedure make the whole process discomfort for the community. On the other hand the profit sharing out of the construction is also a matter.Thanks

Posted on 11/19/12 7:12 AM.

Hi Sheikh, You refer to implementation of public works by communities, but does the Local Government and Engineering Department procure materials that are not available in the communities for them to actually implement the works or do the communities themselves manage the procurement?

Posted on 11/19/12 8:17 AM in reply to Sheikh Muhammad Mohsin.

Hi Chase,
In SCBRMP community manage the procurement even it is not available locally. Community contracts are small . If needed mass procurement they join together . Department only monitor the process and support to have specified materials on time. Department do not involve directly with the procurement.

Posted on 11/19/12 9:09 AM in reply to Chase Palmeri.

Hi Muhammad. Thanks for the interesting project comparison with the Solomon Islands. I think cooperating on purchase and delivery could be considered on the project - to-date this has not happened in any significant way probably in part because communities are often far apart and projects tend to differ from community to community. Lessons learned from your project could well feed into and help shape future project design.

Posted on 11/19/12 9:32 PM in reply to Sheikh Muhammad Mohsin.