June 14, 2003 - University of Denver: Developing an Agricultural Development Project in Ethiopia: Project Design, Bureaucracy and Professional Ethics by Ethiopia RPCV Gene Ellis

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Developing an Agricultural Development Project in Ethiopia: Project Design, Bureaucracy and Professional Ethics by Ethiopia RPCV Gene Ellis

Developing an Agricultural Development Project in Ethiopia: Project Design, Bureaucracy and Professional Ethics by Ethiopia RPCV Gene Ellis

Developing an Agricultural Development Project in Ethiopia: Project Design, Bureaucracy and Professional Ethics{1}

The two strolled along, George hand-in-pockets and somewhat glumly, while he waited for Lane to unburden himself. To their left, across the field, two of the royal lions lolled in the sun, one on his back with forepaws frozen in the air, fast asleep, his belly explosed to the mid-morning sun. Their keeper, fast asleep, sprawled under a tree some thirty feet away. About them, townspeople hurried on their way to the mercato, the big, Saturday market.

George had burst through the door, hot and sweaty, a good twenty minutes late, having miscaluated the difficulty of driving the forty-five kilometers to the capital on market-day, the road a crush of overloaded lorries, jam-filled microbuses, farmers herding their sheep and goats, and women carrying huge loads of firewood (extending out four or five feet on each side of their bodies)l for sale at one of the local markets or at the giant open-air mercato in town, the largest such market in Africa. The last thing he had expected Lane to say was, "Let"s take a walk."

As they strolled past the old palace grounds, the eyes of the guards lazily tracked them. Everyone else walked with purpose. Theirs was yet to be determined.

"Look, fella," Lane blurted, "we"ve got to come to an understanding. You"re messing things up, and that"s got to stop."

George"s stomach tightened. "Stop what" I"m just doing my job."

"Like this Washington group visit; you"re sending the wrong message. I want you to stop talking to these guys."

"But Lane," he responded, trying for a reasonable tone, "you are the one who wanted me to give these fellows a tour of the area. I"m just trying to get my field research done."

"Yeah, but you"re giving out that the tractor hire scheme stinks, and you haven"t even finished your study yet. Remember, AID/Washington gave you a dissertation fellowship to give you a chance to conduct some field research out here, not to attempt to run our mission."

"I"m not trying to run the mission, or to design the project, Lane, but I was asked by you guys, including Willis (the resident Ag Economist) to do research that would contribute to better design on the Ada. It"s not my fault that it turns out that the tractor hire is a disaster."

"See, there you go. How can you say it"s a disaster" You"ve got just a few months data so far..."

"...and you fellows had no local data when you designed it! The point is what that small amount of data tells us. My randomly selected harvest samples are small, true enough, but they show little or no yield response to tractor-plowing teff."

"So what" That"s one crop out of nine or ten, and a small sample at that." He paused to shoo away another taxi driver. Their slow, ambling progress had drawn a small flock of the small Fiat seiscento{2} taxis.

"The problem is that if you accept your project design documents as accurate, and if you then assume that there will be no gains just from switching to tractor-plowing per se, then using tractors on almost any of the crops would be a loser. And teff just isn"t any crop -- it"s the main one, with over 60% of land put to it, and contributing even more value, since it"s price is far higher than maize or wheat, much less the rest."

They turned the corner of the palace grounds and headed down by the Filowa mineral baths. The tall, silvery eucalyptus shimmered in the sun. As usual, there wasn"t a cloud in the sky. Through the bars of the fence, the Emperor"s old Rolls Royce could be seen, being carefully washed by two servants.

"If your yield tests are right, and if they hold up for other crops and for other years, then maybe the cost data are wrong. But the key point is that mechanization relieves labor bottlenecks in the production process, as well as saving on the use of oxen."

"That"s what I thought, too, Lane, but you should see some of Getachew Tecle Medhin"s farmer data! It shows that smaller farmers use a lot more family labor in all the farm tasks other than threshing. Which means that they are getting a major return to that labor, and probably means that the labor is not scarce. There is no labor bottleneck. And there sure won"t be once you bring in the tractors. They"ll unemploy everyone in sight!"

"Look, George, we"ve gone over that a dozen times. No one"s going to lose their land; no one"s going to lose their job. We"ll arrange it so the tractor service is provided to smaller farmers."

"I know you"ve told me before. And it still doesn"t make sense. Look, the MOA did a survey in Ada, and it shows that the average holding is divided into three or more parcels, with each parcel being less than 2 acres (.79 ha.). How the hell are you going to get tractors to those parcels" If you get them there, how the hell are they going to turn around" It seems to me, once you get there, you find you have to rearrange parcels for efficiency"s sake. But of course you don"t have land reform legislation, so you let the absentee landlord"s "reform" it for you."

"And what if they did" We"d get larger holdings, better tillage, more efficiency""

They stood on the corner near the new restaurant for a bit before Lane swung left, deciding to go around the block. They headed toward the football stadium, bucking the growing crowds headed toward the market. The divided road was a jumble of vehicles, goats, sheep, and hawkers.

"You seem to think that landlords would be willing to both pay for tractor hire and to pay their tenants too, or that peasants would pay the tab to replace their present employment with tractors. Do you really think either is the case" Are peasants so wealthy as to be able to afford to purchase that much leisure" Even if they were, is it the purpose of a development project to go out and buy leisure time for one little patch of peasants out of the world"s billions" No, you know damned well what"s going to happen -- the landlords will reform the tenant farmers right out of existence! The horrible thing is that the tractors aren"t even economical -- we"ll have to subsidize the destruction of these people, and call it development."

They lingered, caught for a moment in the traffic. Glancing left, George recognized the Peace Corps hostel from his earlier days in Ethiopia. A little over a decade before he had had dinner there with Malcolm X as he made his hijera to Africa and the Holy Land; he still remembered the tall, somberly dressed man, eyes glinting in the moonlight, gesturing with his finger as he talked: "George, there is only one, final, moral imperative in life, and that is to do the necessary." Lane"s words snapped him back to the present.

"Oh, that"s bull! If they"re so uneconomical, why is private mechanization increasing so rapidly""

"Good question. I asked Martha and Norm{3} and they seem to think a lot of it is because tractors and fuel are imported duty and tax free, whereas most everything else is taxed at 30 per cent."

"And that"s another thing," Lane turned, his face flushed in the rising sun. "You"ve been telling tales all over the mission. You have to understand the chain of command around here. First Willis, then I, review your work, and if we find that it adds anything, then we"ll share it with the others. But get this straight -- you don"t have the training or the field experience to make these judgements ... "

"... so I share them with the Program Economists, or the Loan Officer, or the Program Officer," George butted in, "to get their feedback, to get their insights."

"Unfortunately, all you do is muddy the waters," he snapped, "and I spend half my time dealing with this manure." They walked in silence for a few minutes.

"Try to see this from my position," Lane started, more in control, "Roger (the mission director) wants USAID to develop a major thrust in agriculture, and that means yesterday. We want to have $10m. in projects approved this year. The Swedes have their project at CADU. The Bank has the Wollamo project. We"re going to a strong project off the ground, and soon. We can"t waste our momentum futzing about with every single component. Some will not come off; it"s the nature of things. And, once the implementation team comes on line, we"ll change them. But you can"t sweat the small stuff."

"The "small stuff", as you put it," snapped George, forgetting his wife"s injunction to tone down the sarcasm, "consists of about 26,000 peasant farmers who stand to lose their livelihoods if we continue this. Why can"t we just drop this component of the project" What difference does it make" You know that government tractor hire schemes have a lousy track record, that costs will be sky-high, that returns can onlyh be better if we drop it. So why not""

"You don"t understand how the system works. If we drop the $5m. or so budgetted for the tractor hire, our total project obligation really slides. Washington would never consider a project so small. We need that component. And if we try to change it now, we"ll get second-guessed within the mission. And if they don"t beat us there, they will take it to both the Interministerial Committee and to AID Washington. By the time it"s over we won"t have any project, and everyone will be out there with knives."

"Look," Lane blurted, swinging around to face the young researcher, "I know where you"re coming from. I know you served here as a volunteer; that you"re concerned about the people. I"m all for that. When this project goes through, it"s going to need someone like that at the highest level, and I can"t see anyone out there better qualified. You"re sure to be the project director. But we can"t go on like this. You"re screwing up the works. If it keeps up, you"ll miss out on a good chance to do some good here, and end up never being able to work for AID again." He gave George a friendly clap on the shoulder, and headed towards the mission. George stared after him a while, a tall, pleasant American striding in the noon-day sun, then turned to his Land Rover for the long trip home.

Later that weekend he sat with a beer and chatted with a few friends from the mission. "He"s got a point," one said with a sigh. "You"ve got the analysis right, but you"re outa line." "Besides," opined another, "you run around like a bull in a china shop."

"I just tell it like it is," George retorted.


"Well, hell, I"m not an employee, I"m an economist. A researcher." No reply.

"So, what"s to do""

"You could try talking to the Newsweek guy this weekend," one noted.

"Great!" another noted sourly. "That"ll get us all in hot water, a three year delay while everyone diddles, and still accomplish nothing."

"Couldn"t you guys do something"" I threw out.

"Like what" We can ask questions within the mission, but they just brush it off. Roger really wants this, and he"s the Director. The question is: where else is there to go" To the Ministry" The Interministerial Committee" Washington" Boy, they"d like that."

"But can we just sit it out"" asked another.

"No," came the slow, thoughtful response, "You can"t depend on the tooth fairy on this one; Lane"s happy ending just isn"t in the cards. Once it"s funded, it"ll fly. Can you imagine an implementation team coming in here, looking at $5 m. to spend on tractors, and having the guts to say we just won"t spend it" No way."

"And you"re sure about the impact on tenants"," turning to me, raising the question for at least the fifth time.

"He"s sure," one of the economists spoke up. "And he"s right."

And the party dragged on.

About ten days later, the Ag Division intern, one of the "young Turks" who regularly saw George"s data and reports, and just as regularly saw them deep-sixed{4} within the division, called. "George, when"re you coming in next""

"I dunno. Maybe around the weekend. I need some supplies."

"Come early Friday. There"s a guy I"d like you to meet. Why don"t we have lunch together""

"Okay. Fine with me. Who is it""

"Oh, a HID{5} guy attached to the Prime Minister"s office. He"s an aggie, and really interested in land tenure and ag mechanization. I think you"d find him very interesting. And he might be interested in talking to you, too."

They rang off. It had been a frustrating week, with no solutions in sight. Save the Newsweek guy. George, a bit leery, was holding off on that. But maybe the Harvard guy could do something. "Should I say something"" he wondered. "How much could a conversation accomplish"" No one had any data that way; all I could share was just opinions. "Maybe I should write up a report; give some detail." he pondered.

Later in the week, George"s depression lifted even further. His mentor, Ed Fei, the fellow who had first been taken with the idea of establishing dissertation fellows within AID, sent a message from Washington: he had heard of the project, was interested in the parts George was researching, and would be out for a look-see en route to some meeting in Kenya! George"s spirits soared. Ed couldn"t have known, but his note came just at the right time.

"Perhaps I should leak to the HID fellow, after all," he sighed

Study Questions

1. What is the case to be made against the planned agricultural mechanization component in the Ada wereda (district) project which has been mostly designed (and potentially funded) by USAID/Ethiopia" What are the strengths and weaknesses of the argument"

2. What is the rationale for the opposing point of view" What are the various arguments put forward for retaining the mechanization component as is (at least for now)"

3. Review the actors in the case and try to sort out their stances and the strategies they have at their disposal. Give some thought to how you might behave in their place. To whom and what do you owe your loyalty"

4. Should the researcher "leak" to the HID adviser" Should he prepare a report to pass over, or just hint" If pressed, should the researcher "leak" to the Newsweek journalist"

The Actors

the Ag Division - short for 'Food and Agriculture' Division, the largest division in the USAID mission to Ethiopia.

the Mission Director of USAID/Ethiopia - decisive, harddriving, determined to 'develop a strong, viable program', generating at least $10 m./yr. in new projects in concentrated areas of concern (e.g., agriculture), focusing on projects which may lead to a 'programmatic emphasis'-- that is, having some general applicability.

the Division Chief - handpicked, fastrising agronomist USAID employee, on his first tour in Ethiopia but with a decade of field experience in other countries. The USAID Ag chief is anxious to get the project approved; he is under an overall mandate from the mission director as well as a specific tight timetable for presenting this project for approval of the Interministerial Committee (containing both donors, the MOA and other relevant ministers... Finance, Ministry of Land Reform & Development, Prime Minister's Planning Office, etc.). the Ag Intern - an M.Sc. in Agriculture, on his first posting in the Young Professionals program.

the Program Officer - formerly a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ethiopia, several years out of the Young Professionals program, with over five years extensive travel and experience throughout the country.

the Loan Officer - the mission 'star', doted on and highly respected by the Mission Director and others, with degrees from Yale and Columbia and several years experience with the U.S. Treasury.

the dissertation student - formerly a PCV in the country, with training (but no experience) in economics.

the Harvard advisor - an experienced ag economist, member of a team assigned to give advice to the Prime Minister's planning office. The PM"s team gives policy, oversight and direction.

the Interministerial Committee - a committee with representative from the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Land Reform, the Prime Minister"s Office and relevant external agencies (in this case, the potential funder and the primary designer, in fact if not theory, USAID).

the Ministry of Agriculture - knows that the project would be "their" project, staffed by their personnel and providing them with funding and power. Not well or fully funded, with a shortage of experience and expertise, tending to lean on donors, who provide institutional support, training and funding, as well as guidance as to the philosophy and design of projects.

the Ministry of Land Reform - less well funded than MOA, with a less-than-enthusiastic mandate from both government and, at times, donors, whose headquarters often push rhetoric while their field units want "growth", often at the expense of "equity".

Exhibit 1 Net Return Estimates Per Hectare to Mechanization Using Project Assumptions Crop (1) Mechanized w/ Increased Output (2) Improved Practices Only (3) Mechanized w/o Output Increase Difference Per Hectare (3) - (2) Teff $ 292.38 $ 220.82 $ 217.38 - $ 3.45 Wheat $ 248.58 $ 218.09 $ 188.58 - $ 29.51 Maize $ 220.20 $ 150.45 $ 160.20 + $ 9.75 Barley $ 77.32 $ 88.26 $ 49.32 - $ 38.94 Sorghum $ 128.20 $ 123.20 $ 98.20 - $ 25.00 Chickpeas $ 87.54 $ 67.00 $ 70.54 + $ 3.54 Broad Beans $ 50.00 $ 25.83 $ 36.00 + $ 10.17 Lentils $ 75.30 $ 10.30 $ 63.30 + $ 53.30 Source: Computed and compiled from data contained in An Application to the U.S. Agency for International Development for Ethiopia: The Ada Agricultural Development Project (Addis Ababa: I.E.G. Ministry of Agriculture, 1970), Table 12, p.37, as cited in Ellis, Man or Machine; Beast or Burden (unpub. dss., University of Tennessee, June 1972), p.27.

Exhibit 2 Some Sample Teff Yields from Ada Wereda for 1970: Mechanized versus Oxen-Plowed Yields

Group Characteristics Sample Size Mean Yield/Hectare (Quintals) Fertilized, tractored 10 13.16 Fertilized, oxen-ploughed 29 12.61 Improved seed, fertilized, oxen-ploughed 6 13.51 Non-improved seeds, fertilized, oxen-ploughed 23 12.38 Improved seed, fertilized, tractored 7 12.87 All types, fertilized 39 12.75 All types, unfertilized 10 7.50 Control group 7 7.29 All type, fertilized, non-improved seeds 26 12.55 Source: Ellis, p.29.

Exhibit 3 Average Parcel Size for Randomly Selected Ada Wereda Holdings by Class Size Class Size (hectares) Total Area Number of Holdings Total Parcels Average Parcel Size 0.5 to 0.99 6.90 10 22 0.31 1.00 to 1.99 26.90 18 60 0.45 2.00 to 2.99 48.05 19 64 0.75 3.00 to 3.99 47.75 14 67 0.71 4.00 to 4.99 60.40 13 78 0.79 5.00 to 999 105.85 16 124 0.75 10 and over 52.40 2 23 2.28 All holdings 348.25 92 438 0.79 Source: Extracted from J.E. Ghall, Report to the Government of Ethiopia on Ada District Sample Survey (Addis Ababa: I.E.G. Ministry of Agriculture, 1961), Table XVII, Appendix II, p.55, as in Ellis, p.92.

Exhibit 4 Comparison of Work Hours for Case Farmer Holdings Less Than Three Hectares With Mean Work Hours For All

Operation Hours/Hectare (less than 3 ha. farms) Mean of All Farms Deviation from Mean Plowing 183.0 141.0 + 29.8 % Sowing 73.7 52.6 + 40.0 % Weeding 222.0 97.8 + 127.0 % Harvesting 134.5 115.5 + 16.5 % Threshing 39.2 41.3 - 5.0 % Total 652.4 448.2

Source: Compilation of case farmer data from an unpublished study by Ato Getachew Tekle Medhin, as in Ellis, p.53.

Exhibit 5 Private Plowing and Threshing Costs by Oxen and Tractor for a Hectare of Teff (in Ethiopian $/ha.)

Unfertil- ized, using Tractor Fertilized, using Oxen Fertilized, using Tractors Fertilized, using Oxen Plowing $ 50.85 $ 39.81 $ 50.85 $ 39.81 Threshing $ 11.50 $ 17.90 $ 19.15 $ 30.40 Total $ 62.35 $ 57.71 $ 70.00 $ 70.21 Source: Compiled and computed from field data, as in Ellis, p. 111.

Exhibit 6 Wheat Yield Increases to Fertilizers, Improved Seed and Mechanization in the Chilalo Area, Ethiopia (1969 and 1970)

Input Approximate Yield Increase (Quintals/hectare) Fertilizers (DAP & Urea) 5 Improved Seed 2 Mechanization 01 1 The study revealed neither a consistent (i.e., positive or negative) nor significant reponse.

Source: Interview with Mr. Fludh, Head of Planning and Evaluation, Chilalo Agricultural Development Unit (CADU), 1970. The sample size for 1970 was in excess of 600. As in Ellis, p.32.

Exhibit 7 Estimated Impact of Project Mechanization Plans on Ada Farmers by Year Ten of the Project Mechanized Operations

Percent of Labor Time Devoted Plowing

31.5 % Sowing

11.8 % Threshing

9.3 % Total

52.5 %

Area Characteristics Average Size of Holding

4.6 hectares Adult Males per Holding

1.6 Persons per Holding

4.8 Hectares to be Mechanized

25,161 hectares

Estimated Impact Estimated reduction in work and livelihood affecting:

8,752 adult males

26,255 men, women and children

Source: Ellis, p.132. Exhibit 8 Taxes and Duties Faced by Normal Imports Not Faced by Tractor Operations (circa 1970)

Normal Imports

Tractor Operations

12 per cent ad valorem transaction tax

No taxes or duties on agricultural machinery

1 per cent Addis Ababa municipal tax

No taxes or duties on spare parts

Chamber of Commerce fee

No taxes on fuel

specific excise taxes

varying import duties Total: somewhat less than 30% ad valorem

Nothing At "Parity Taxation", increase of:

Mach. Costs : Eth. $ 1.23 per work hour

Fuel Costs: Eth. $1.94 per work hour


Eth. $3.17 per work hour

Source: Eshetu Chole and Lawrence Leamer, Government Tax and Expenditure Policies for Ethiopian Development (Addis Ababa: HSIU, 1971), pp. 21-23, conversations with Mr. Norman Wycoff and Ms. Martha Horseley, Program Economists at USAID/Ethiopia. See Ellis, p.136.

Part B

Follow-up: The researcher continues to collect evidence that confirms his initial findings. The researcher beseiges the Ag Division with information. He also talks to his ex-PCV friend, the Program Officer, to the Ag Intern, to the mission Program Economist and to the Loan Officer. The Intern does introduce the researcher to the Harvard advisor, and the researcher does pass over position papers and evidence on ag mechanization and land tenure. The advisor proceeds to help revise national policy and to oppose that segment of the project. The researcher does not raise the issue with the Newsweek reporter. The division chief tries ordering the researcher not to talk with others outside the division. The researcher ignores the order. The division chief tries ordering the researcher not to raise the issue with visiting AID/government dignitaries. The researcher refuses. The division chief arranges a private meeting with the researcher, and offers him a choice. If the researcher cooperates, he will be appointed a choice position on the project team. If he does not, he will never work for AID again. The researcher suggested an anatomical impossibility. Various members present the case to the Mission Chief. He refuses to consider the issue and insists that the proposal must move ahead. Unable to use official cable channels, mission dissenters cable and write colleagues in Washington to inform them of the issue and to inform them what to ask about. A similar approach is taken with the Interministerial Committee.

In the end, the intern, the Program and Lending Officers and others risked their careers to insure that the project's ag mechanization aspects were impeded. (The mission managed to get the tractors into the project as an 'experiment' with even more funds to be spent in evaluation of the experiment. But by the time the project was funded, it was clear that the mechanization would be detrimental, and the intern (by that time the division chief!) saw that it was deleted.) Shortly thereafter, Ethiopia suffered a revolution. The uprooting of traditional peasantry by farm mechanization was a major theme of the revolution. Fortunately, the project had not contributed to that uprooting.

Where are they now"

The Lending Officer is currently Mission Director of the most prestigious posting available to AID officers. The Program Officer and intern have recently retired from distinguished careers which saw the former as a mission director in several African countries, and the latter as a regional assistant administrative officer. The Economist went on to a successful career at the World Bank, where the Harvard advisor has served as a senior economist for many years.

The researcher went into academia. He did not work for AID for five years. He currently teaches economics and policy research at a university in the American West.



This case was prepared by Gene Ellis, Associate Professor of Economics at the University of Denver. It was prepared with the support of the Pew Faculty Fellowship in International Affairs from the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. The author is especially grateful to James D. Wilkinson, of the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning, and to Debby Green, Associate Director of the Harvard Pew Faculty Fellowship, for their valuable comments and suggestions.


Italian for "six hundred", the engines being 600 milliliters (.6 litres) in size.


The economists in the USAID mission.


i.e., sunk without a trace.


The Harvard Institute for Development; now, the Harvard Institute for International Development (HIID).

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Story Source: University of Denver

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