The World Bank has downgraded the $200 million locust control project to moderately satisfactory just one year after its approval that had been given in haste and without assessing the actual needs of the farmers.

Even before its approval by the World Bank board in July last year, the Locust Emergency and Food Security Project had been seen by many as a scheme that was crafted to serve the interests of the bureaucracy more than those of the poor farmers.

“The project may need to be restructured to align the design to the current locust situation and the needs of the country,” read the second Implementation Status and Results Report of the project that reflected poorly both on the World Bank and the federal government.

The lender has downgraded both the ratings – the progress towards achievement of the project development objective and overall implementation progress – to “moderately satisfactory”. The rating still seems unjustified as neither any funds have been disbursed nor any project target has been achieved.

About one-and-a-half year ago, locust had destroyed crops in western Balochistan and south Punjab. The local administration in these districts had done fairly well to stop the spread but the federal bureaucracy found the attack as an opportunity to buy cars and computers.

The World Bank report stated that between July 2020 and March 2021, the locust situation changed from an emergency to a situation that no longer requires urgent interventions. A mission will be organised in September to prepare the restructuring of the project, it added.

Project Development Objective is said to control the locust outbreak, restore livelihoods in locust-affected areas, and strengthen Pakistan’s national food security monitoring and management system.

The project was approved by the World Bank Board on July 31, 2020 but effectiveness was delayed due to needed revisions to the PC-1 as per decision of the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec).

Between November and March, the PC-1 has been revised in close consultation with all relevant stakeholders and was eventually approved by the Ecnec.

The project became effective on March 30, 2021. The start of the project has been delayed by 12 months, affecting the progress towards achieving the PDO, admitted the World Bank.

The sources said that there had been wrangling within the Ministry of National Food Security and Research to capture some of the project related posts. This delayed making the project operational, they added.

The Ministry of Planning had withheld the project approval for months after it found that in the name of farmers there was a plan to buy luxury vehicles and laptops. However, eventually, the ministry too gave up under pressure and approved the project that sought procurement of 310 double-cabin vehicles, 200 laptops and creating about 322 positions rather than helping the farmers. These vehicles are considered as luxury vehicles with high cost of Rs7.5 million per unit.

The Planning Commission had also opposed the locust project on the ground that after the 18th Constitutional Amendment, the subject had been devolved to the provinces.

The World Bank monitoring report showed that against the target of restoring 90% of the affected agricultural land area back to productivity by August 2023, there was nil progress at the end of the first year.

About 96,000 affected households had to be supported with cash- or inputs-based assistance by August 2023 but not even one family received the payment in the first year. Similarly, 20,000 females were supposed to be given direct cash- or inputs-based assistance. None received such assistance.

No work has begun to install and develop early warning system for making preparations before calamities. According to another condition, regional coordination on locust surveillance and control had to be strengthened but this too remains unimplemented.

As a result of government intervention, 90% of the locust-affected farmers were required to report revival of agricultural activities in three years. At the end of the first year no such report has been compiled.

About 2.5 million hectares land area had to be sprayed with pesticide for locust control. The World Bank report showed nil progress in the first year. Similarly, four million hectares of the land had to be surveyed but no activity has yet begun.

According to the monitoring report, the locust monitoring system is not yet operational. The pesticide inventory could not be stored in accordance with appropriate international safety standards, according to the report.

As against target of 1,000 locust control teams to be trained, there was nil progress in the first year. As many as 4,000 women were to be engaged in ground surveys for pest surveillance. No progress has been made yet.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 25th, 2021.

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