Rural Development - Aga Khan Development Network
Aga Khan Development Network

Development in Rural Areas

The AKF Rural Support Programmes (AKRPs) are founded on the principle that communities can take ownership of their own development through the establishment and good functioning of representative village organisations (VOs). The first Rural Support Programme (RSP) was established in the Northern Areas of Pakistan in 1983.  Since then, the model has been adapted and replicated in many other contexts. AKF rural development interventions now reach over 4 million people living in remote and often marginalised areas in Central and South Asia and East and West Africa.

Rural developmentThe model of participatory rural development it has pioneered combines a set of common development principles with the flexibility to respond to specific contexts and needs.At the outset, AKF’s community development approach aimed to bring communities together for mutual benefit, particularly to build and manage small-scale infrastructure, receive training and share learning about new agricultural technologies, and to share liabilities through savings and credit activities. This initial “asset strengthening” model meant that on engaging with communities, AKF worked to identify which category of asset or capital (physical, natural, human, political, social, financial) represented the key constraint for the community and was valued most highly by them.

This has defined AKF’s organisational approach and when combined with access to the necessary financial and technical resources has determined the sequencing of interventions. This approach has led AKF to adopt various entry points in different contexts. In Afghanistan and Tajikistan, post-conflict rehabilitation and recovery drove initial interventions, which then evolved to focus on social mobilisation and the formation of village organisations. In Mali, Kenya and Tanzania, food security and agricultural diversification were the most pressing concerns, with participatory governance playing a smaller role in early programme design.

While the model has evolved considerably over the past 30 years and has been adapted and replicated in diverse contexts, the core components of support to agriculture, natural resource management, financial services, and physical infrastructure, mediated through locally elected community-based institutions, have remained central to AKF’s rural development programming. The following sections describe AKF’s approaches and some key recent achievements in the different areas of work.

Participatory Governance

Reaching almost 4 million people at the end of 2012, participatory governance interventions are at the core of the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF)’s approach to rural development, particularly in Asia, where the investments made in local institutions of community governance are a defining characteristic of the Rural Support Programmes (RSPs). AKF-supported village organisations and interest groups are considered essential to the legitimacy and sustainability of activities and often provide the entry point for other sector interventions. Village organisations are formed through community level elections for office holders who then lead the formulation of a community development plan. The plan defines the priorities and support (technical, financial and human resources) which a community will need to realise its development vision. AKF then works with the community to implement and resource activities in support of that plan, often in partnership with local government.

Over the past 30 years, participatory governance interventions have been remarkably successful. Across the majority of country programmes, there are numerous representative and increasingly sustainable institutions focused on strengthening service delivery and community engagement in rural development, health and education.

Key highlights include:

  • The replication of the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme’s (AKRSP) Local Support Organisation (LSO) model across Pakistan – so that 5 million households are now represented through a network of 765 LSOs;
  • The establishment of 1,522 elected community development councils (CDCs) in Afghanistan, which are increasingly strong institutions of local governance;
  • The block-level federations supported by AKRSP India in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, of which 80% are now financially self-sufficient.

Agriculture and Natural Resources Management (NRM)

The vast majority of the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF)’s beneficiaries are smallholders, located in areas characterised by the complexity and fragility of their natural resource bases. In such contexts, an integrated Agriculture and Natural Resource Management (NRM) approach, addressing the sustainable management of land, water, soil, plants and animals, is critical.The Aga Khan Foundation (AKF)’s initial focus was on making more land available for productive uses (e.g. through extending irrigation infrastructure), training farmers, and improving input supply systems. These elements remain central to the work, but are increasingly complemented by efforts to strengthen sustainability and environmental conservation, and to reduce conflicts by incorporating all stakeholders in natural resource management plans.
AKF’s NRM interventions aim to:

  • Protect and revitalise pastures and rangelands;
  • Improve water management systems to support the diversification of crops;
  • Improve land management practices including minimum soil disturbance; maintenance of soil cover and species diversity; and
  • Promote the sustainable management of forest resources.

Such interventions help to generate and sustain increases in productivity and form a core part of AKF’s extension work with farmers.
In agriculture, AKF is particularly focused on staple crops such as rice, wheat, millet, sorghum and maize. Initial efforts were largely concerned with productivity gains through seed improvement and crop diversification. However, over time, a more systematic approach has been developed which includes training for farmers on post-harvest handling techniques and storage, and improved linkages with agro-traders and processors. These activities are intended to help farmers realise the full potential of their crops. AKF also works to diversify farmers’ income streams through the production of high value products such as fruit, vegetables, meat and dairy. Interventions focus on improving input supplies (such as seed and fertiliser) and facilitating relationships with buyers and markets. Examples include the development of private-sector mother stock nurseries, which sell improved fruit tree saplings, and networks of para-veterinarians, who deliver animal health services to improve livestock productivity.

Evidence gathered across the country programmes indicates that agriculture and NRM interventions have had a significant effect on incomes from agricultural livelihoods and contribute substantively to AKDN’s overall objective to improve quality of life and well-being in target regions.

Non-farm Enterprise and Employment

In an effort to promote inclusive, market-oriented growth in the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF)’s programme areas, the focus on farming is complemented by activities aimed at increasing incomes from non-farm activities. Initially, the Rural Support Programmes (RSPs) tended to provide business support services directly to local micro, small and medium enterprises. Services included business advisory and consulting services, training, marketing services, and information resources. Over time, AKF has focused more on increasing capacities and facilitating relationships between actors in specific value chains. AKF also helps to strengthen intermediary organisations such as business or marketing associations, and supports vocational and technical training institutions. AKF’s non-farm enterprise and employment work is increasingly focused on a small number of high potential sectors – such as tourism, construction or gems cutting and polishing – where there is real market demand and a comparative advantage for local production.

Non-farm enterprise and employment activities currently reach just over half a million people and there are ambitious plans to extend coverage to over a million by 2017. This reflects the increasing importance of non-farm rural income in the target areas and is based on the positive results of interventions to date.

Key highlights include:

  • AKRSP Pakistan support to 27 vocational training centres across the programme area, reaching 27,000 people with skills training;
  • Almost 60,000 people have accessed AKRSP India’s training centres to obtain information on government schemes, agriculture markets and job opportunities;
  • AKF has successfully strengthened support institutions such as the Bamyan Tourism Development Board, in Afghanistan, the Centre for Business Guidance, Cabo Delgado in Mozambique and numerous business associations in key sub-sectors.

Access to Finance

The Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) has had a long history both in running informal micro-finance initiatives and in connecting local people to formal micro-finance institutions. These efforts aim to increase households’ ability to manage risk and make social and economic investments. In the last four years AKF’s interventions have focused primarily on training informal, community-based savings groups (CBSGs), which provide access for the poorest and most vulnerable segment of a community to basic financial services. CBSGs enable poor and vulnerable households to meet unexpected needs and invest in livelihoods activities including purchasing supplies and trading. CBSGs have grown quickly to reach 275,000 direct beneficiaries in seven countries. Evidence collected to date suggests that the CBSG programme can have a profound impact, particularly for female group members.

For more information, please see the page on community-based savings groups.

Key recent achievements include:

  • 2,268 Self Help Groups (SHGs) established by AKRSP India between 2002 and 2012, and comprised almost entirely of women, with savings that exceed US$1.1 million;
  • 14,920 CBSGs established between 2009 and 2013, with 71% female members; these groups produce more than $10 million per year in savings, at an average of $35 per member, per year.

Productive Physical Infrastructure

The Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) has made significant investments in micro, small and medium infrastructure, in collaboration with donor and community partners. Infrastructure investments often complement AKDN’s health and education initiatives, through school and clinic construction and the installation of drinking water supply systems.
This cross-sector collaboration is central to AKDN’s implementation approach, with its focus on improving the quality of life for beneficiaries through multi-sector programme delivery. In addition to the contributions to social infrastructure, huge investments have been made in productive infrastructure such as irrigation canals, micro-hydro power, roads, and bridges. These investments are intended to unlock the economic potential of often seriously isolated communities and regions and improve the rural built environment in the regions in which AKF works.

AKF’s infrastructure work is closely tied to its local governance activities and all interventions are identified through participatory planning processes and prioritised in the context of community, district or provincial development plans. Given the significant multiplier effects of the infrastructure work it is challenging to fully capture the outcomes, but key highlights include:

  • The Aga Khan Rural Support Programme, Pakistan supports to more than 3,800 infrastructure projects over the last decade that continue to benefit nearly 1.2 million people;
  • Since 2003, AKF has built 5 bridges over the Amu Darya river. These bridges connect Tajikistan’s Gorno Badakhshan Oblast and Afghanistan’s Badakhshan Province and provide improved humanitarian access and new opportunities for cross-border trade and economic development;
  • Since 2004, with support from AKF Afghanistan, community development councils have completed 1,834 infrastructure projects, strengthening local governance capacity and the ability for local communities to drive their own development.

Future Plans

The Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) has always relied heavily on local communities, partner governments, and dedicated teams of local staff, who are intimately connected with the regions and issues on which they work. These staff - and an institutional commitment to remaining engaged in a specific geography for decades - distinguish AKDN from many other development actors and have allowed the diversity of approaches and interventions summarised above to evolve and flourish over time. As the rural development programmes move into their fourth decade, they will be called on to address emerging challenges including rapidly changing demography, climate change, and unpredictable geo-political circumstances. In meeting these challenges, approaches and priorities may shift, but the core elements of the rural development programmes will likely remain constant and will continue to rely on the partnership between AKDN and the communities it seeks to serve.

In its participatory governance work, AKF will focus increasing efforts on “meso-level” institutions, which represent the interests of clusters of communities or whole districts. Working with fewer, higher-level institutions will allow AKF to extend coverage and facilitate engagement with local government. In agriculture and NRM, AKF will invest more resources in helping smallholders adapt to climate change, and engage more actively in agriculture markets. Responding to the aspirations of large populations of under/unemployed young people in its programme areas, AKF plans to increase its focus on vocational training and skills building outside the agriculture sector. Finally, as AKF seeks to intensify its efforts in support of financial inclusion, mobile financial services are likely to play an increasingly important role. In all these areas, AKF will endeavour to fully realise the potential for collaboration with other AKDN agencies, government and private sector partners.