Call for concept notes for: Food Security / Integrated Water Resources Management, eastern DRC.

Great Lakes Program; Netherlands Embassy in Rwanda in collaboration with the Embassies in DRC, Burundi and Uganda.

Duration: 4 years.

The Great Lakes (GL) Program of the Netherlands, managed by the Dutch Embassy in Rwanda in collaboration with the embassies in DRC, Burundi and Uganda, intends to set up a program on food security and integrated water resources management for eastern DRC (called ‘the program’ henceforth). The embassy therefore invites organizations interested in implementing such a program, to submit a concept note for this program. The embassy will evaluate and compare the concept notes, based on which it will select and invite at most three organizations to prepare a full proposal.

Please find below the context and main features of the envisaged program. Key criteria that will be used in the selection process are described at the end of this paper.

Please be aware that for budgetary reasons there is a possibility that the program will ultimately not be awarded.

l. Introduction

The eastern part of DRC has been plagued by instability and insecurity for many years. Numerous armed groups are active in this region, local groups as well as foreign ones. Poverty, corruption, impunity, land grabbing, richness in natural resources yet lack of economic opportunities, ethnic conflicts, and the weak capacity of government institutions are all major drivers of conflict in eastern DRC.

A large part of the population in the region depends on primary production for their livelihoods. Surplus production is sold to the cities in the area or exported to neighbouring countries.

Persistent rapid population growth and land grabbing are putting pressure on available land for smallholders. This has increasingly forced farmers to move to marginal lands on ever steeper slopes. Here, soil erosion and soil depletion are significant threats to farm productivity. This land degradation also reduces the water holding capacity of the soils on mountain slopes, thereby increasing flood risks in the plain during the rainy season, and reducing the availability of water for drinking and irrigation during the dry season. Moreover, violence and harassment by police, army and local militia are a hindrance for farmers to access their fields and markets, thus putting agricultural activities and value chains further under pressure. Widespread illegal taxation also reduces the profitability of transporting goods to markets, which is another factor in frustrating economic development.

Yet there is a great potential for agricultural development in the area under consideration. The towns of Goma and Bukavu have large populations -between one and two million inhabitants each- and are growing rapidly. They present substantial markets for agricultural produce from their rural hinterlands as do the markets across the border in Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi. For farmers in these hinterlands, the growing demand  offers opportunities for earning an income from fresh and processed agricultural products.

Agricultural development is a priority in the DRC’s development policy. Over the last four years, the Netherlands has funded projects supporting food security and integrated water resources management in Masisi and Rutshuru near Goma, and in the Rusizi Plain near Bukavu. Given (1) the objectives as formulated in the Great Lakes Multi-Annual Strategy, (2) the investments made in terms of capital, knowledge, development of expertise, and relationships, and last but not least (3) the results achieved, it was decided to continue with a new food security and integrated water resources management (FS/IWRM) program in the same sectors and in the same geographic areas. The new program will fit in the framework of national and provincial policies as well as of the Dutch Great Lakes Program which includes a range of other activities in the same geographic areas, particularly on security and rule of law. This provides ample opportunity for additional cross-sector synergy (see below).

The estimated budget for the FS/IWRM program will be EUR 30 million.

ll. Rationale

What has been achieved so far

During their three years of operation, the current projects have succeeded in establishing themselves as relevant contributors to development in the region. They have invested heavily in building relationships and trust with a wide range of stakeholders. Tensions in relationships and sometimes open conflicts have been part and parcel of this process, as was expected in eastern DRC, where conflicts have been part of daily life for a long time.

In spite of the often difficult circumstances, some impressive tangible results have been achieved, e.g.:

  • Activities promoting land tenure security have proved crucial to protect investments and community interests. This was done through the introduction of group titles in the Rusizi Plain and the successful negotiation with several concessionaries for better land tenure arrangements, involving one to two thousand farmers, in Rutshuru.
  • The rehabilitation of the drinking water supply system and irrigation infrastructure, as well as the improvement of land tenure security have boosted agricultural production as well as collaboration between the different ethnic groups in the Rusizi Plain. The newly established cooperative of irrigation farmers has grown into a mature and capable organization ensuring proper management of the irrigation system and supporting the farmers.
  • Youth have been drawn into project activities and have been transformed from ‘spoilers’ into active participants in development. For instance, small businesses were set up and are run by youth.
  • Farmers have obtained access to markets: in Luberizi they managed to sign a contract to supply rice to the BRALIMA brewery in Bukavu. In Rutshuru and Masisi, linkages were forged with seed suppliers from Goma. In addition, contracts were established between producer organizations and Goma-based traders and processors, benefiting 2000 farmers.
  • In South Kivu, the improved functioning of the local cooperative and the issuance of land titles have facilitated access to credit. In North Kivu a guarantee fund was established that allow financial institutions to open a credit line for producer organizations, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and village savings and loan associations (VSLAs)
  • In partnership with tele-provider Orange, an e-market information system (weather, market and agro information) and a mobile payment system were developed and are being piloted.
  • Although watershed protection activities are still at an experimental stage, promising progress has been made especially in the Luberizi watershed area, where land tenure security and integrated farm planning (plan intégré du paysan or PIP) interventions are combined.

Lessons learned

In addition to the lessons implicit in the achievements presented above, a number of other useful conclusions can be drawn from the current projects:

  • Working with farmers leasing land for a short term, as is general practice in eastern DRC, is not conducive to integrated water resources management (IWRM) as farmers lack incentives to invest in soil and water conservation, while big land owners often regard land as a speculation object and not as a means of production. As a consequence, they hardly do anything to conserve it. Therefore, in areas with many large concessions, landscape rehabilitation interventions should not be the first activity to be taken up. Only if land tenure rights are secured, can these areas be included in IWRM interventions.
  • Value chain development and market system development take time and the current projects have been no exception in this respect. Sufficient time should be allowed for such interventions, given the various obstacles that need to be tackled such as poor infrastructure, insecurity, strong risk aversion among private sector actors, but also the existence of a dependency culture among beneficiaries which has resulted from a long history of relief interventions.
  • Originally the projects had selected value chains on the basis of an economic analysis only. However, from a conflict sensitivity perspective, a revisit of the selection of value chains has sometimes been needed.
  • Government capacity is limited and at times (local) government officials have stronger ties to some parts of the population than to others. Still, the government’s involvement in the project is crucial to ensure buy-in of the authorities and to facilitate implementation of the projects. In case of security challenges they can play an important role in mediating in disputes or solving them.
  • Overall, the extent of the results in terms numbers of beneficiaries and acreage covered has been rather modest. Quite some time was dedicated to developing strategies to kick off the activities while less attention was paid to strategies for scaling up. This can be attributed to insufficient experience of the implementing organisations with the themes in question.
  • As a whole, conflict sensitivity was insufficiently incorporated in the projects. In the difficult working environment of eastern DRC, it is vital to strike the right balance between conflict sensitive and time-consuming analysis and programming on the one hand, and to be able to respond swiftly to (unexpected) opportunities for achieving tangible results that can build trust among stakeholders and increase their commitment, on the other hand.
  • Landscape restoration activities were eventually taken up in the three projects, but the scale of results remained limited due to the level of insecurity, especially around the Rusizi Plain, but also due to the lack of a clear vision on how landscape restoration can be reached at a sufficiently large scale.
  • In general, the projects had difficulty in attracting the right level of expertise. Vacancies remained open for too long, forcing the projects to fall back to HQ back stopping services.  At the same time, it must be recognized that the working conditions in eastern Congo are not very conducive for attracting seasoned (international) experts.
  • Collaboration between projects has not been automatic. Different efforts to enhance cooperation have not been as successful as anticipated.

lll. Outline for future interventions

General

The overall objective of the new program will be to contribute to the mitigation of insecurity and instability by fostering economic development and access to markets and land in eastern Congo. It will aim at increasing economic activity by improving the profitability and resilience of the farming system in the rural hinterlands of Goma and Bukavu. In this way it will address the needs of rural households and contribute to job creation as well as to a more stable and affordable food supply in the cities.

The program will grosso modo consist of the following interrelated components: value chain development, improving agricultural productivity and its capacity for resilience, and integrated water resources management. The interventions in the programme will be based on the experiences, lessons learned and challenges of the existing projects in the same geographic areas. The proposed program will therefore target Rutshuru and Masisi Territories both in North Kivu Province and the Rusizi Plain and the foothills of the adjoining mountains in South Kivu Province.

Expected outcomes, outputs and type of activities

Outcomes:

  • Improved access of farmers to land, processing facilities and markets
  • Value chains developed in an inclusive manner, contributing to cooperation between communities
  • Watershed areas protected, contributing to increased production and cooperation between upstream and downstream communities

 Outputs:

  • Key bottlenecks in relevant agricultural value chains are addressed.
  • The value chains to be developed will include those that are already being promoted and those that have a potential to serve, in a balanced way, the respective economic interests of different ethnic groups. 
  • Land degradation in the hillsides is addressed at a large scale, thus reducing the vulnerability of the region to flash floods, dry spells and through this, adapt to climate change.
  • Security aspects related to production and marketing will be tackled as an integrated part of the interventions.

Type of activities

  • Agricultural production
  • Market linkages
  • Post-harvest treatment and handling
  • Control of soil erosion and watershed management
  • Addressing security-related issues that hamper development and/or supporting measures that contribute to improved security for producers, traders and customers.

Brief explanation of value chain development

The programming of value chain development in the new project should be based on the results achieved by the current projects. These results need to be scaled up. The envisaged project will strengthen value chains, which will include the strengthening of local markets, which often absorb a major part of the surplus production of small farmers.

The first line of intervention will focus on the improvement of food production by subsistence farmers aiming at the improvement of food security and nutritional status of their families. Commercialisation of production is not the central objective but selling surplus on local nearby markets, already common practice among these farmers, will be supported. Introducing home-based or cottage based processing facilities and improving market places could be part of the intervention.

The second line of intervention is support to agricultural commercialisation aimed at emerging entrepreneurial farmers who show a genuine interest in this. Key elements of the intervention are improving production and strengthening the resilience of farming, introducing home-based or larger processing facilities, establishing market linkages, including linkages with Bukavu, Goma and cross-border markets, improving access to finance through formal institutions, strengthening relevant services and improving the enabling environment in general. Nutrition of farmer households are relevant in this line of intervention as well, as a single-minded focus on commercialization and generating income may go at the expense of nutrition.

These different lines of intervention are likely to affect different types of actors differently and may also have different implications for the prevention and management of conflicts. Therefore, these interventions require a thorough conflict and actor analysis and continuous monitoring.

Brief explanation of IWRM

Appropriate IWRM interventions are needed to halt land degradation, rehabilitate the land, improve the local water regime and through this to improve the productivity and the resilience of farming on mountainsides. These areas are particularly important, because the growing population in the project areas take more and more marginal land into cultivation. The resulting land degradation affects not only farmers cultivating mountainsides but also the population living in the plains below. Apart from Netherlands-funded-interventions, little else in the way of IWRM is done in the targeted areas.  Watershed management interventions have the potential to connect upland farmers and farmers in the plain. Given the complex social context, IWRM interventions should be based on a careful analysis of their potential impact on conflict and cooperation between these different groups.

In parallel with this program, a land tenure security program is being developed. Where the land security program will take up land titling in the same geographical area, it is expected that measures to improve farm productivity and minimise erosion will be implemented by the FS/IWRM program. The two programmes are expected to reinforce one another.

IV. Way of working

The DRC is a fragile state. Particularly in eastern Congo, conditions are not very conducive to socio-economic development. Hence, we are looking for a realistic and pragmatic approach. We particularly request the following:

Reality check. Given the circumstances in eastern Congo and the main objective of the Great Lakes program, most important for the population is a tangible contribution to more public safety and security. Interventions to boost food security and water management are, in the final analysis, a means to this end.

Conflict sensitivity. The geographic areas under consideration all suffer from persistent insecurity. Conflict sensitivity is therefore key to achieving lasting results. There is a deep mistrust among ethnic and political groups. Regularly revisiting the conflict and actor analysis and mechanisms for monitoring the developments in this field as well as their impact on project activities are needed.

Looking behind the façade. A technical approach will not do. The prevailing mode of political and socioeconomic interaction in the DRC is a (neo-)patrimonial one. This system permeates all levels of society up to the highest political echelons. A clear understanding of the pervasive client-patron relations is crucial for formulating a sensible approach.

‘Do not re-invent the wheel’. In the complex and difficult context of eastern Congo, many projects and initiatives have been undertaken over the last 20 year to foster stability and economic development. Proposals should build on these and develop scale on what is already working or could work (preceding programs!).

Local government structures. These should always be  part of the proposed solution. In spite of the limited capacity and an exceptionally weak institutional environment, creating parallel structures is not an option. As local government structures have few human and financial resources, rigorous prioritization is essential. Furthermore, the proposal should enter within the provincial and national policies and priorities.

Other relevant programs. Collaboration with other relevant programs and projects in the geographic areas under consideration should be reflected in the proposal. In addition, there should be tangible and demonstrable synergy with  Dutch-financed projects like ESPER, Radio Benevolencia, the future land tenure project and SSU Monusco

Sustainability. Right from the start provisions should be built into the program to promote sustainability after the termination of the intervention, financially, institutionally as well in terms of capacity and ownership.

Risks. Taking into account the difficult circumstances under which the program will have to operate, a clear and realistic description of the risks and possible mitigating measures should get the attention it deserves.

V. Selection criteria

Based on an assessment of the quality of submitted concept notes, at most three applicants will be asked to submit a full proposal. The following criteria will be applied for assessing the concept notes:

1. Quality of the concept note:

  • Understanding of the call.
  • Description of the components of the program
  • Description of the outcomes and related outputs and activities
  • Analysis of the local conflict context and how the project will engage with it
  • Realistic estimation of the number of beneficiaries that the project will reach.
  • Indicative budget, showing the major budget categories
  • Adequate description of the proposed way of working with regard to:
    1. reality checks,
    2. conflict sensitivity
    3. (local) political economy analysis,
    4. building on previous results,
    5. collaboration with government structures, projects in the Great Lakes program and other relevant programs,
    6. sustainability,
    7. risks

2. Convincing argumentation on how the project will achieve a sufficiently large scale.

3. Organisation:

  • Relevant experience of the organisation with the key components of the project, preferably in eastern Congo. There is no a priori preference for contracting either one organization, or a consortium.
  • Evidence of the organisation’s capacity to implement sensitive projects, in a politically complex environment.
  • Evidence of the organisation’s capacity and flexibility to field a well-performing team and to adapt the team when necessary.

4. Adequate quality of the program team with regard to:

  • Composition of the team: the proposed functions in the team cover the different subject matters of the program
  • Assurance that leading staff will have at least 7 years of proven experience in the thematic area, and that the team leader will have at least 10 years relevant experience.
  • Network in DRC
  • CV’s of the candidates for two lead positions (team leader and a thematic expert). The proposed candidates need to be available for the implementation of the project. If, due to delays at the embassy, no contract or agreement has been concluded within 4 months of submitting the concept note, a replacement can be proposed if needed.
  • Evidence of capacity of the organization to field a well performing team and to adapt the team when required.