In 1987 my friend, Paul Starkey, wrote a small book for GTZ called ‘Perfected yet rejected’, sub-titled, ‘a cautionary tale of development’. The book provides a history of research, development and promotion of animal-drawn wheeled toolcarriers. Wheeled toolcarriers are multipurpose implements that can be used for plowing, seeding, weeding and transport. These implements have been universally hailed as "successful" and yet farmer adoption has been extremely disappointing. Farmers have rejected wheeled toolcarriers because of their high cost, heavy weight, lack of manoeuvrability, inconvenience in operation, complication of adjustment and difficulty in changing between modes. Farmer rejection was been apparent since the early 196Os, yet up to the time the book was being written the majority of researchers, agriculturalists, planners and decision makers in national programmes, aid agencies and international centres were under the impression that wheeled toolcarriers were a highly successful technology. These impressions derive from encouraging and highly optimistic reports (Starkey, 1988)
Yesterday, at the inaugural sessions of the Conference on ‘Restoring Communities through Home-Owner Driven Reconstruction: from post-Emergency to Development’ organized by UN Habitat and supported by the European Union, Australian Aid and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), (probably at the cost of a few dozen houses) I was reminded of Paul’s book. It was not so much that Home Owner Driven Reconstruction has been rejected by the ‘beneficiaries’ (as in the tool carrier), but more that it was being idealized as a process by, largely, the donor community. The ceremonial opening, and the inaugural technical session (I didn’t stay for all of it) were a mixture of agency trumpet blowing and endorsement of the Home Owner Driven idea, based on the now rather tarnished concept of ‘participation’, with the refreshing exception of the SDC representative at the opening ceremony who pointed not just to successes but also to the challenges of implementation.
I attended the afternoon session on Ensuring integration and enabling environments, mainly because I wanted to check the reaction to CEPA’s study on indebtedness of housing beneficiaries in the north, presented by Vagisha Gunasekera. It was an interesting and rather eclectic session, including presenters such as Susil Siriwardena, formerly Director of the National Housing Development Authority, and the implementer of President Premadasa’s Million Houses Scheme, Professor Shailaja Fennell, from the University of Cambridge together with the Woman President of the Women’s Development Bank and a lawyer from an international NGO. There was a call for what a speaker in one of the inaugural sessions had named ‘flanking measures’, especially building opportunities for people to engage in productive livelihoods and earn money, if Home-Owner driven reconstruction was to have its intended impact. Vagisha’s point was that while indebtedness was a problem (in that it resulted in reduced food security etc for families) the bigger issue was the inability to repay the loans that families were taking out. Huge denial from the PTF, the Government of India representatives, UN Habitat etc. alongside a vehement interjection from the audience that ‘indebtedness was the single most problem in the North today'.
The objective of the CEPA study, commissioned by SDC, has been, as Paul Starkey says in the preface to his book, “to analyse experiences, good and bad, positive and negative, and to try to draw lessons from these...... the question of “failure” will only arise if people do not make good use of “negative lessons”. I do hope Home Owner Driven Reconstruction will not become that sort of 'failure'
Paul Starkey (1988) Animal-drawn wheeled toolcarriers: perfected yet rejected:a cautionary tale of development, GTZ, Eschborn. ISBN 3-528-020342