Last year I wrote a trilogy concerning the waste of money on development projects in the hide and skin trade that have no result other than creating and maintaining highly paid jobs. Several knowledgeable and highly reputed readers commented in my favour in an article in the November issue of Leather International. It is very difficult to get information about projects because when I write and ask for information people immediately go on the defensive. Smile! Evaluation reports are not made public.

In-depth evaluation reports are distributed only to all counterparts, governments concerned and donors. Therefore, Limeblast is one of the very few sources of information you will be able to consult. The sponsors, the organisations or multilateral or bilateral donors, who pay for projects, normally judge project results from the paper reports that are being submitted to them. The UN rules require that sponsors are invited to participate in evaluation missions which result in evaluation reports. But do sponsors really participate and do they check project results in reality?

Do all UN organisations adhere to this rule? How objective are these reports, especially when not monitored independently? Considering the projects of which I have first hand knowledge, I have strong doubts that their evaluation reports depict the reality on the ground. If sponsors were told the realistic impact, I am sure they would reconsider their support of these projects or request a more realistic and efficient approach which could assure better results.

Last year, I mentioned a US$3,075,047 project that was designed to look into the commercialisation of hides and skins by improving collection and quality in smallholder farming systems in Botswana, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe. In March last year, CFC offered a job to consultants to do a midterm report about the results of this project. The results of the report have not been published but hide and skin collectors in both Malawi and Botswana, including a high ranking official of the Ministry of Agriculture in Botswana, told me that the project has had zero impact and debatable results. If you want to read the optimistic but unrealistic general findings of this mid-term report, then go to the FAO website. I’d need two Limeblasts to comment.

In June 2004 a so-called fast-track project was approved and funded by CFC to hold a US$80,000 workshop in Addis Ababa on ‘pre-slaughter defects of hides and skins and intervention option in East Africa: harnessing the leather industry to benefit the poor in Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan and Uganda’, the usual hogwash of words.

The major objective of the workshop was to ‘provide a forum for stakeholders in the region to thoroughly assess the extent and impact of pre-slaughter defects of hides and skins in the region and envisage alternative options for rational interventions and sustained control mechanisms’. The project executing agency reported in 2005 that it was in the process of liaising with a number of key stakeholders in the region to decide on how best to proceed on the deliberations and recommendations of the workshop.

As it happens I am well connected in the area and after checking with whom I consider ‘key stakeholders’, being hide and skin collectors and the biggest exporters of hides and skins, I could not find one single person who remembered having been asked for his opinion. Few remembered receiving an invitation to attend the workshop.

The workshop was held in Addis Ababa in April 2005 and some 40 people attended, most from Ethiopia, one from Burundi, one from Uganda, some from Kenya. I understand that after a whole year the final report of this fast-track project has not yet been distributed and only a draft is in circulation. This is one of the many money-wasters on subjects that have been chewed over a hundred or so times!

Last February the sub-group on hides and skins convened in Arusha, Tanzania.

The delegates were all African, except one from Europe (UK), two from Latin America (Argentina) and some observers and officers of international organisations from overseas.

It is to be noted that FAO, who organise the sub-group sessions, does not pay for the travel and accommodation of delegates and observers, which reduces the attendance rate.

Two project proposals were on the table. One was for Latin America and one from Africa. Both projects were endorsed with the pre-condition that they need to be further developed.

Esalia presented a project for promoting wet-salting in East Africa highland regions (Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda and Tanzania).

I haven’t (yet) found out how much money this project is supposed to consume, but all hide and skin traders of the region and their overseas buyers know for sure that there are no dry hides available in the region anymore, simply because all cattle hides are salted.

One of the pictures shows salting of hides and another of skins in Burundi and the third picture shows salting in Rwanda. So why waste money on teaching people what they are already practicing successfully? Why does nobody stop this waste by simply acknowledging that this project covers old ground?!

It appears that one of the persons present, seconded later on by the Tanzanian chairman (bravo!) of the session, expressed his reservations of including Rwanda in development benefits when it had created a monopolistic player after the introduction of the export ban.

Surprisingly Dr Kiruthu of Esalia commented that Rwanda has no export restrictions on hides and skins for export to Comesa countries. I checked this with the Ministry of Commerce and Industry in Kigali and was informed that the export ban on raw hides and skins is total, no exception for trade towards Comesa countries.

The result from this first screening which took place during this meeting was that the proposing agency (ie Esalia) was requested to reformulate the project taking into account the observations made on Rwanda. Considering that all countries proposed in the project are already salting their hides

and have also started to gradually salt their skins, I appeal to CFC that the project be scrapped completely and the money used for better purposes.

From what has transpired from Arusha, I must say that the signals seem somewhat comforting. Project proposals are getting a slightly harder look now than before rather than being simply rubber stamped like they were in the past.

Some projects are not being implemented and I understand that at least one project, that was already in execution, was suspended due to results not matching the objective.

The executing agency and their partners were obviously not happy and were anxious to save their project, well probably not really the project but the flow of money, by trying to talk CFC into a second chance. A mission was mounted for a meeting in Amsterdam and yes, the project was saved away from the public eye. The money flow has found its way back to where it was intended to go! This time we may have to settle for the fact that a first breach was made and that maybe a trend for change has appeared on the horizon.

There is also the ‘Regional Raw Hides and Skins Grading and Pricing Scheme in Burundi, Malawi, Rwanda, Sudan and Uganda’, originally formulated in 2004. This project is a clone of a similar project called ‘Raw Hides and Skins Grading and Pricing Systems’ whose failure I wrote about last year. The CFC committee recommended that the project proposal should be reformulated. In other words the project proposal was rejected.

A revised project proposal was submitted to the CFC committee in July 2005. The committee concluded that the project remained unconvincing and, hence, it was again rejected. Hopefully CFC is becoming generally more and more critical and will be less accommodating in the near future.

A last word about the projects that are on the table in general. They are still only and exclusively projects from the well known project factories. No projects come from outside sources. The money that is being spent is passing through the same channels, proving that projects are a business not a campaign to help the poor.

Sam Setter