Are we really going to use this? – Localizing the SDGs in Trinidad and Tobago

Featured image: Problem solvers 

 This is all good information but given the way things are done I can’t see us using these project management tools. This was a sentiment expressed at the third project management training workshop of the EU-CLGF project “Localizing the Sustainable Development Goals in the Caribbean” being run by Trinidad and Tobago Association of Local Government Authorities in association with the Caribbean Network for Urban and Land Management.

The workshop, held on 31st October and 1st November at the Port of Spain City Corporation, focused on Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E). Participants form the Sangre Grande Regional Corporation, Penal-Debe Regional Corporation and Port of Spain City Corporation, along with representatives from Tunapuna-Piarco Regional Corporation and San Juan-Laventille Regional Corporation, learnt about Earned Value Analysis and calculated Cost Performance Index (CPI), Schedule Performance Index (SPI), Cost Schedule Index (CSI) and Estimate at Completion. These indices are indicators, widely used in project management to determine if the project is on schedule in terms of cost and time; if the project can be brought back on track; and, what would be the total cost at completion.

Photo: Expressions of gratitude to participants form Port of Spain City Corporation

The idea that the progress of a well-planned project can be tracked at this level of detail using only budgeted and actual expenditures; and that the information can allow for informed decision making during the life of the project was somewhat of a novel concept to participants. Certainly, this was not done in practice. Often, it was stated, at the local government level, the progress of the work was evaluated at the time it was scheduled to be completed; and if not completed, decisions about future of the work was determined at that point. Sometimes complaints by intended beneficiaries would alert officials to the status of the work and interventions would occur at this point. This is not to say that there is not inquiry into the progress of ongoing projects at Council meetings or among persons executing the project within Corporation, just not a fully structured format.

Thus, the sentiment expressed about using the workshop information, had a level of validity. The questions then became:

  • How can we change the culture of project management in the municipal corporations, to incorporate standardized and systemic means of measuring progress?
  • How can we utilize more quantitative measures of progress to allow for better decision making during the scheduled life of the project?

One suggestion is that the participants of workshops become champions for project management by incorporating these tools in their day to day work programme and,  if possible, lobbying to encourage more persons to adopt these practices. Other suggestions included spreading the message further, either through a training of trainers workshop to include more municipal corporations and/or further training in project management software and other management tools.

Other relevant discussion occurred at the workshop, for example, why do projects face challenges which cause them to stop and what are the kind of solutions we should be looking for? One participant stated that if a project is properly planned, with assumptions, risks and strategies to mitigate risks clearly defined, it is less likely that drastic changes would be required during the life of the project. Of course, some assumptions may not hold or some risk management strategies may not have been adequately thought through, for example, drastic fluctuation of exchange rates in donor funded projects or unusual weather patterns affecting project completion as recently experienced in the Penal Debe and Sangre Grande Corporations. However, some challenges are often predictable, e.g. wet and dry season for construction projects, key staff members going on leave, public holidays etc., and can considered in the planning process. Should changes in the project be required, one must keep the objectives of the project in mind but also recognize that the length of time for approval (or acting without approval) can make the scenario worse.

Photo: Problem solving across municipal corporations

Discussions were also held on how to close out a project. Validating deliverables, releasing resources, closing out contracts, disassembling the project teams, and reviewing project documentation were discussed. Often the amount of work in closing out a project is understated and under budgeted leaving this aspect of the project in jeopardy. The financial implications of this can be tremendous as projects often do not receive the final tranche of funding until the achievement of the scope of the project has been verified.

Photo: Local government participants in project management workshop on M&E

The participants were quizzed to ensure that the learning outcomes of all the workshops were achieved. The answers were reviewed and any misconceptions clarified. An online survey for persons not in attendance is planned to evaluate learning outcomes. The true test of learning outcomes will also be determined in the execution of the pilot project. An M&E activity is planned for January 2018 to ascertain how participants have implemented the project management tools as they make progress with the demonstration projects.

 

 

Mangoes4Moengo

Featured image: Preserved dunks (Olijf) and almonds fruit (Mope) sold in parlour in Maroon village.

Not being conversant in Dutch, Dr. Polar left the room and began searching for plants around the building. “This spinach (Amaranthus dubis) is edible ”, he said. “The wild carilee (Momordica charantia) also produces an edible fruit while the noni (Morinda citrifolia) has medicinal properties.  Korsoewiri, Lantana camara encourages more butterfly species which can reduce the level of pest caterpillars on crops and this plant (Mimosa pudica), which closes when you touch it, can be used as an indicator of nitrogen poor soils.” The local representatives nodded in agreement but were surprised by one relating to Lantana camara. “The point I am making is that if we are to promote backyard farming in Moengo we should not neglect local knowledge and should utilize plants which grow naturally than force ourselves to grow things which do not easily grow”.

The intervention was at stakeholders meeting in Moengo held under the Plan4Cure (Platform for activating networks for cultural resilience) project which aims to integrate heritage into planning policy as a way of sustainable development of urban and rural sites (i.e. Marienburg, Frimangron, Paramaribo and Moengo) in Suriname.

Edible and/or medicinal plants found in Moengo

The past, present and future importance of Moengo

Moengo is located in the Marowijne district close to the border with French Guyana. It was Alcoa’s first bauxite mine is Suriname but has been recently closed. The strategy for Plan4Cure would be to find economic strategies for Moengo to ensure its survival. The persons in Moengo are mainly Maroons who live in the urban centre or along the bank of the Cottica river. Oral accounts suggest that Moengo was a prosperous town until the civil war (1986 – 1992) where it  was the stronghold of Brunswijk, who was fighting the de facto head of state (and current President), Bouterse. Today, it could be considered as a post conflict society struggling to rebuild. Moengo is also of possible interest because of its inland location, its existing road and river networks. This location should be evaluated as a potential area where refugees could relocate should sea level rise due to Climate Change cause the Small Island Developing States in the Caribbean or low lying areas on the continent to become submerged.

 Plan4Cure

The Plan4 Cure project is lead by the University of Antwerp’s Johan de Walsche,  Sigrid Heirman, Dirk Laporte, Marleen Goethals and Filip Hanjou and  by Anton de Kom University of Suriname’s Marciano Dasai, Hans Martinus and Angelika Namdar. The urban design students are engaging residents in planning processes in the targeted locations as a form of Problem Based Learning. Dr. Polar of the Caribbean Network for Urban and Land Management (Trinidad) and Lula Marcondes of the Universidade Católica de Pernambuco (UNICAP) (Brazil) joined the team to provide technical assistance. Dr. Polar presented the film “City on the Hill” which documented the built and cultural assets of East Port of Spain, Trinidad while Lula Marcondes demonstrated the emergence of a cultural revolution from the city of Recife, Brazil.

 Map showing Moengo

The Plan4Cure work was divided into plans to enhance urban and peri urban agriculture, the arts and tourism.

Urban and peri-urban agriculture

In the discussion on urban and peri urban agriculture, it was noted that some of the residents of the Moengo area would make their livelihoods through slash and burn subsistence agriculture in forested areas or engage in it if other employment activities were not available. These gardens often contain watermelon (Citrullus lanatus var. lanatus), cassava (Manihot esculenta), Antroewa (Solanum macrocarpon), bora (Vigna unguiculata) among other plants. It was also observed that most households had fruit trees (Almond (Terminalia catappa), cashew (Anacardiun occidentale), dunks (Ziziphus mauritiana), mango (Mangifera indica), breadfruit and chataigne (Artocarpus sp.) and only a few had vegetable crops.  Some strategies were recommended to improve nutrition security and food security.

  • Maroons have a tradition of sharing food with family and friends hence food security is not considered a major problem for many. In hard economic times, the lack of physical money may be a barrier to trade in goods and services. Hence, the traditional sharing of food should be encouraged to ensure it is not lost as it is known that urbanization often changes these traditional behaviors.
  • Increasing food production around household is likely to reduce demand for forest land for cultivation. The easiest approach would be to convincer homeowners to plant another tree in their yard or to have a low maintenance backyard garden.
  • Growing watermelons was said to be more economically viable than vegetables because of their longer shelf life. There is opportunity for processors, particularly those who make cassava/ banana chips, juices or frozen vegetables, to either sell produce in Paramaribo or encourage local use if tourism picks up in Moengo.
  • The soils in Moengo are rich in bauxite but may lack the organic matter suitable for vegetable growing. Composting household food waste or mixing poor soil with organic material from the forest can improve fertility. Backyard gardens should focus more on ensuring nutritional security than economic returns.
  • Planting fruit trees on unutilized areas in the town can provide nutritional security, economic returns and aesthetic benefits. There was a reluctance to impose a management structure for this given past experiences with co-operatives. Hence, allowing a management structure to evolve naturally may be the recommended approach. Mangoes, perhaps, would be a useful fruit to start with as these grow healthily in Moengo and are easy to propagate.

Subsistence agriculture plot

Reviving the cocoa industry

One of the tree crops not observed in Moengo or the Maroon villages was Theobroma cacao (cacao). Dr. Polar had earlier spoken to Ellen and Rudger of Tan Bun Skrati (http://www.tanbun.org/), the only know artisan chocolate manufacturer in Suriname. They explained that the cacoa industry began in Suriname along the Suriname River where it spread to other inland and coastal areas. Cultivation of cacao began in the 1680s with the growing of the yellow Criollo and the red Caracas imported from Venezuela. After a promising start, production declined in 1750 and Forestero material from Brazil was imported leading to the development of the “Surinamese trinitario”.  There were booms and busts and many plantations gave way to coffee production. Some key actions to revive the industry in Suriname were discussed. Should or could cacao be grown in Moengo? – A question for another day.

Drying of cacao beans

Artistic expressions

The art movement in Moengo is largely driven by Marcel Pinas of Tembe Art Studio who erects large works of art en route to Moengo. He organizes the Moengo festival and brings international artists to Moengo as well as encourages the talents of some of the youth in the area. Art may be a means of promoting economic activity in the area but may also be valuable tool in soothing old wounds in a post-conflict society. The possibility of building an artsy playground for children in the area is an old idea of his which is now given new life.

Tourism potential

 The Cottica river was used to ship bauxite and several Maroon villages have thrived along its banks. Asking the permission of the “Captain” of the village is protocol and “tourists” are genuinely warmly greeted. The agricultural and forest/wetland biodiversity is diverse.  Tamarin, the Ndyuka Maroon village, is also the site of the abandoned Catholic boarding school which is being examined for its potential for restoration.

 

Heading to Maroon villages along the Cottica river

Towns based on a primary industry often fade away when the industry is gone. Private companies can easily extract themselves but communities die a slow and painful death. The Plan4Cure project continues with a new group of students and it is hopeful that the plans designed with the local community are implemented and can lead to renewed prosperity. Lessons learnt at Moengo can also be applied to other parts of Suriname and perhaps the Caribbean which also face uncertain economic times.

Bois cano emerging in abandoned mining area

Note: We apologize for not having the names of the plants in the local language.  A guide to the medicinal plants of the Guianas is available at this link  including local names http://botany.si.edu/bdg/medicinal/Medicinal_plants_master.pdf