NOUAKCHOTT, March 8, 2011 – During the 1970s, Mauritania experienced a series of droughts that dealt a severe blow to its macroeconomic equilibrium. Rural populations were the hardest hit, with poverty rates averaging a record 75 percent. As a result, there was a mass exodus of men and women in search of a better life to major urban centers such as Nouakchott and Nouadhibou. However, others remained behind, because in spite of this wave of rural-urban migration, the rural sector provided employment for approximately 64 percent of the working population and was still the main source of income for Mauritanians.
In 2004 Mauritanian authorities decided to jumpstart the grassroots development process, giving rise to the Community-Based Rural Development Project (CBRD). The project is jointly financed by the Government of Mauritania, the World Bank, and beneficiary communities, to the tune of US$45 million — over 11.7 billion ouguiyas, the local currency.
The CBRD is a rural poverty reduction project which symbolizes the third generation of development initiatives implemented in Mauritania. Contrary to past projects which were planned and executed by the State, the CBRD seeks to transfer technical competencies and financial resources to local populations, who are best positioned to decide for themselves what their needs are and how they should be met. This decentralized approach takes place in the context of a village planning process that leads to the formulation of home-grown development plans and investment programs.
“Community Driven Development (CDD) is an approach that has already been adopted by communities and which has been very successful, especially in terms of strengthening decentralization,” explained Salamata Bal, Senior Social Development Specialist and team leader at the World Bank office in Mauritania. “From the outset, the project has based its interventions on the three main pillars of CDD—community participation, strengthening of societal cohesion, and social accountability.”
A practical approach
Driving along the “Highway of Hope,” a 1100-kilometer stretch linking Nouakchott to Néma which was once known as the Trans-Mauritanian, a team of World Bank personnel, government officials, and project experts recently embarked on a journey to take stock of project achievements. They met with CBRD beneficiaries in the regions of Trarza, Brakna and Assaba.
The first stop was Essouroure, a small community of approximately 500 inhabitants in the middle of the desert. When the CBRD came to this area in 2005, local citizens worked together to pilot a number of micro projects based on an agreement to transfer funds directly to a Community Development Association (CDA).
It all started when a group of women became outraged by the fact that the area’s only two butchers sold overpriced meat. Furthermore, they did not provide this service on a regular basis. “We decided to take things into our own hands by investing first in a butcher shop that sold at much more reasonable prices, then in a butane depot, and later on in restricted grazing land for our cattle,” noted the president of the women’s cooperative, who is also a member of the CDA.
This initial victory encouraged the people of Essouroure to develop their own Village Community Development Plan, which took into account the needs of the inhabitants over a five-year period. The experiment was implemented with success in about a dozen pilot rural communes.
“One of the advantages that we found with this approach is the beginning of open, transparent, and inclusive debate. There is now a dynamic of cooperation among the members of our commune, free of situations of monopoly or conflict of interest in the public space,” said one of the community leaders in the village of Essouroure. “The CBRD has indeed contributed to a positive change in mindsets.”
To date, the CBRD has financed over 2,300 micro projects of this type in 141 rural communes across 10 of Mauritania’s 12 regions (or wilayas). Stores, agricultural enclosures, community gardens, water supply systems, well rehabilitation, grain mills, and access infrastructure are some of the most requested investments in rural areas.
Community stores and enclosures in agricultural areas have the highest levels of efficiency. They have proved key to preventing rural exodus, in particular by helping make sure local residents have access to necessities and by protecting their fields against stray animals. These two types of interventions represent about 55 percent of all community micro projects.
In order to assess the impact of these projects, the CBRD commissioned a socioeconomic study, which produced extremely encouraging results, although the author of the report mentioned occasional flaws. The study found that after three to four years of using the resources that had been transferred to them, Community Development Associations have yielded a profit of approximately half a billion ouguiyas (approximately US$1.7 million) through their stores.
The community stores are now increasingly performing social functions, such as providing emergency loans of up to 70,000 ouguiyas (about US$300). The author of the study, Sidi Ali of the nonprofit Tenmiya, shared his findings. He said the CBRD has implemented a management model that has proven to be beneficial. “It is a mix between individual management and community management. This allows for the efficiency of individual management by persons driven by their personal interest, but also operating under the umbrella and control of the community, the CDA, and the village, which facilitates greater transparency and therefore highly efficient management,” he explained.
Breaking down barriers, promoting women’s economic advancement
The CBRD is now implemented in 856 villages spread across the vast territory of Mauritania—more than a hundred above the original project objectives. In each of these villages, there is at least one CDA that conducts development activities defined by the people themselves. It is mainly within these associations that women, the real driving force behind this development effort, have played a decisive role, providing innovative solutions and showing management capacity.
Incorporating the gender dimension has proven to be indispensable in a country where women, contrary to popular opinion, are not just stay-at-home mothers. Representing more than half of Mauritania’s population, women very often work hard to support their families.
“Before approaching the women, we had to make sure that the planning documents were gender sensitive. What are the tools that need to be included in this diagnostic guide, community development blueprint, or annual investment plan in order to take gender into account? These were our concerns from the outset,” said Doussou Dicko, the woman in charge of capacity building for the project coordination unit.
For the national CBRD coordinator, one of the lessons learned during the past five years is the reversal of the decision-making process. “If you visit the villages where we are operating, you will see that there is a vibrant nucleus within the communities. They are now better organized; they hold discussions in a collaborative manner, despite the onerous sociopolitical situation that persists in our country. The CBRD has managed to break down several barriers and that is the added value of this approach,” he remarked.
The World Bank team, in collaboration with the project coordination unit and the Mauritanian Government, is currently working on a possible second phase that will extend the successful activities and allow the project to address a number of deficiencies noted in the first phase. If implemented, the second phase will focus on improving project monitoring and evaluation, as well as the communication of results, and consolidating the gains made to date. Future challenges will likely include the development of livestock activities, the strengthening of decentralization, local development, and a greater inclusion of commune-level entities, especially in the management of major access works.
Contact: Ms. Salamata Bal, Senior Social Development Specialist: firstname.lastname@example.org