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Local development organisations are now widespread in rural regions of North Africa. In the past, these organisations were usually only involved in a few sector‐specific activities. This study investigated the activities of 24 local development organisations in the Saharan regions of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. The fields of action of these organisations have expanded in the past decade, thanks to their increased capacity to handle relations with other actors. They have become active in defining what development means at the local level, although public administrations do not yet acknowledge such a role.
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RESEARCH ARTICLE
Local development organisations in Saharan
regions of North Africa: Expanding horizons
Meriem Farah Hamamouche
1,2,6
| Nicolas Faysse
2,3
|
Marcel Kuper
2
| Caroline Lejars
2
| Mostafa Errahj
4
|
Zakaria Kadiri
5
| Nadhira Ben Aissa
3
| Ahmed Benmihoub
6
1
Research Office for Agricultural
Development (BRDA), Paris, France
2
G-Eau Research Unit, University of
Montpellier, CIRAD, Montpellier, France
3
National Agronomic Institute of Tunis, Tunis,
Tunisia
4
National School of Agriculture of Meknes,
Meknes, Morocco
5
Hassan II University of Casablanca,
Casablanca, Morocco
6
Research Center in Applied Economics for
Development (CREAD), Algiers, Algeria
Correspondence
Meriem Farah Hamamouche, Research office
for Agricultural Development (BRDA), 4 rue
Camille Pissarro, 75017, Paris, France.
Email: hfarah07@hotmail.fr
Funding information
International Fund for Agricultural
Development, Grant/Award Number:
2000002013
Abstract
Local development organisations are now widespread in
rural regions of North Africa. In the past, these organisa-
tions were usually only involved in a few sector-specific
activities. This study investigated the activities of 24 local
development organisations in the Saharan regions of
Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. The fields of action of these
organisations have expanded in the past decade, thanks to
their increased capacity to handle relations with other
actors. They have become active in defining what develop-
ment means at the local level, although public administra-
tions do not yet acknowledge such a role.
KEYWORDS
agency, autonomy, diversification, fields of action, local
development organisations, North Africa
1|INTRODUCTION
Organisations which provide support to their members or to communities are now common in rural areas of
Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia (hereafter North Africa). They emerged in different ways. Some were created on the
United Nations > International Fund for Agricultural Development 2000002013
Received: 30 September 2021 Revised: 23 April 2022 Accepted: 13 May 2022
DOI: 10.1002/jid.3675
This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License, which
permits use and distribution in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, the use is non-commercial and no
modifications or adaptations are made.
© 2022 The Authors. Journal of International Development published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
J. Int. Dev. 2023;35:7996. wileyonlinelibrary.com/journal/jid 79
members' own initiatives. For instance, in Algeria, communities have been managing irrigation systems for centuries
on their own (Hamamouche et al., 2018). Others were created at the request of the state, for instance, public admin-
istrations created community-based organisations to undertake activities that they were unable to undertake or no
longer wished to undertake (Al Atiri, 2006; El Alaoui, 2004). Other organisations emerged from a joint effort by rural
inhabitants and supporting actors (Bekkari and Yépez del Castillo, 2011).
These organisations can be termed local development organisations (LDOs). They are local in the sense that their
members originate from the same community and their activities take place within this community. These organisa-
tions undertake activities related to the economic, environmental and social issues occurring at community level,
within small, geographically delimited areas (Langman et al., 2021). They may have or may not have a legal status.
Many LDOs in North Africa have long been involved in supporting agricultural activities (e.g., joint purchase of
inputs, joint marketing of agricultural products). Many associations operate irrigation systems (Ben Mustapha Jacox,
2016; Pereira & Santo, 2018) and manage natural resources such as forests (Aziz et al., 2014). In recent decades,
some LDOs have become involved in other fields of action than agricultural production and natural resources man-
agement, for instance, activities to support the social and economic empowerment of women (Ftouhi, 2020;
Montanari & Bergh, 2019; Perry, 2020) or environmental protection (Carpentier, 2017). However, only a few studies
have reported cases of LDOs expanding their activities outside their original fields of action. Apart from services
related to agriculture (credit, farm equipment, etc.), some milk collection cooperatives in Morocco use their profits to
provide other services such as medical insurance or grants to development associations (Faysse et al., 2010). Also in
Morocco, associations have extended their field of action from natural resources management to environmental pro-
tection and social issues, for example, the role of women in rural society, sport, and education (Quintal &
Trudelle, 2013).
These few reported cases of diversification of activities of LDOs in rural areas of North Africa mostly took place
below the radarof public development actors and international donors. These LDOs are now recognised as devel-
opment actors but are often mostly considered as being in charge of actions within rather specific fields of action,
such as milk collection or irrigation management. Lewis et al. (2020) proposed a typology of the roles of non-
governmental organisations (NGOs): implementers (providing services and goods), catalysts (supporting change
among community members and other actors) or partners (working in partnership with other actors, e.g. to define
policies). Using this typology, LDOs in rural areas of North Africa have mostly been classified as implementers
(Chenoune et al., 2017; Faysse et al., 2010). The interest of public policies and academics focused less on what LDOs
chose to do and more on the performance of their (previously defined and considered as stable) activities (e.g., Giel
et al., 2016).
Looking at the activities that LDOs choose to undertake raises two interrelated questions. The first relates to
the amplitudeof their activities. Do LDOs limit their activities to a specific field of action or do they intervene in
various fields of action, possibly as a way to achieve their vision of what the development of their communities
should be? The second question relates to the now ample recognition by public and international development
actors of LDOs. Increasing numbers of these actors foster the creation of LDOs or provide funding to them (Lewis
et al., 2020). This raises the question of the autonomy of LDOs in such contexts: to what extent do LDOs decide on
their actions (possibly in various fields of action) independently or do they take their decisions under the influence of
other development actors? If, after answering these two questions, some LDOs are found to undertake actions
based on their own view of what local development means and they do so independently, their role should be
acknowledged as being more than implementers.
Many studies have addressed the two above-mentioned questions by focusing on the relations between LDOs
(and more generally NGOs) and other development actors. The second question (the relation with other develop-
ment actors) was often used as an entry pointto consider the first (the roles of the NGOs vis-à-vis rural communi-
ties). For instance, some studies were inspired by the Resource Dependence Theory, which argues that organisations
change to minimise external pressures and to influence their environment (Pfeffer & Salancik, 2003). These studies
describe NGOs that have diversified their sources of funding and their activities to become more independent from
80 HAMAMOUCHE ET AL.
donors (e.g., Arhin et al., 2018). The present paper addresses the two above-mentioned questions from a different
perspective. It analyses the diversification of LDO activities in rural areas of North Africa to understand the relations
they have with other development actors and their evolving role with regards to local development.
The study was conducted in the Saharan regions of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia where LDOs are particularly
present and active. Civil society in these areas has created many forms of solidarity and collective action in different
domains of life (Ilahiane, 2004). Some recently established LDOs are rooted in a long tradition of community
resources management (Vos et al., 2020). Moreover, a wide range of development actors including public
administrations, international donors and NGOs intervene in these areas. These actors have promoted or enabled
the development of many LDOs.
2|DYNAMICS OF LDOS
2.1 |Changing roles of NGOs
Several studies have investigated the changing roles of NGOs to which LDOs belong, from different academic per-
spectives. One series of studies investigated the changing roles of NGOs. Korten (1990) considered that different
generations of NGOs emerged along with a progressive change in the way NGOs assessed development needs. The
first generation of NGOs focused on the immediate needs of communities. The second generation aimed to tackle
more long-term issues related to sustainable development. Later generations aimed at more intense advocacy activi-
ties by building strong links at local, national and international levels. Several studies also reported that local NGOs
in rural areas of developing countries have become development brokers. These organisations have become the
links (and sometimes the gatekeepers) between inhabitants and donors (Bierschenk et al., 2000). These studies unde-
rlined the capacities of these NGOs to attract resources, especially through project proposals that match the donors'
priorities (e.g., Funder, 2010).
In some cases, community-based organisations are considered as partners for policy design at local level,
sometimes formally, sometimes informally (Banks et al., 2015; Farid & Li, 2021). In other cases, NGOs in rural
areas of developing countries are deliberately barred from influencing the design of public policies (Ariti
et al., 2018).
Other studies focused on the second question mentioned in our introduction, that is, the autonomy of NGOs
from other development actors. One series of studies showed how some NGOs have become dependent on donors
(e.g., Bayalieva-Jailobaeva, 2018). In Morocco, Montanari and Bergh (2014) identified cases where LDOs were
dependent on state actors. This dependency has sometimes led to a shift from a situation where NGOs were giving
importance to accountability to their constituency, to one where they focused on accountability to donors (Atia &
Herrold, 2018).
2.2 |LDOs in rural areas of North Africa
In the past, collective actions at community level in rural areas of North Africa concerned different fields including
cropping, animal husbandry, irrigation, food storage, education and religious education (Charfi, 2009;
Trousset, 1986). Mutual aid within the community, called touiza, involved reciprocal support between families and
joint activities for the benefit of the community as a whole, such as maintenance of irrigation canals (Ilahiane, 2004).
These activities were organised in a customary manner, either at the level of the village council (jamâa) or in specific
groups (e.g., irrigation communities).In the colonial and post-independence periods, public administrations encour-
aged the establishment of professional agricultural organisations to boost agricultural development. They enacted
statutes for different types of associations and cooperatives, agricultural cooperatives in Tunisia and Algeria or
HAMAMOUCHE ET AL.81
agrarian reform cooperatives in Morocco, to manage the colonial agricultural heritage. Most of these organisations
were transformed or disbanded a few years or a few decades later (Amichi et al., 2011; Petit et al., 2018;
Simmons, 1971).
Structural adjustment plans and the economic liberalisation of the agricultural sector marked the 1980s and the
1990s. Public administrations attempted to transfer some activities to farmers, for instance the management and
maintenance of irrigation infrastructure in all three countries (Bessaoud, 2008; El Alaoui, 2004; Hamamouche
et al., 2017). A series of farmers' organisations was created in a top-down way to take over these activities, especially
in response to the participation paradigm promoted by international donors in Morocco and Tunisia (Kadiri, 2020).
Formal water users' associations were also established within traditional irrigation systems in Morocco to act as
mediators between farmers and public administrations (Bekkari & Yépez del Castillo, 2011). In Algeria, from 1990 on,
public administrations set up farmers' organisations to help implement agricultural policies (Bessaoud, 2008).
The number of LDOs expanded rapidly from the 2000s on (Thieux, 2009). The first driver of this expansion was
the changing national environment. Public policies and development projects in all three countries promoted LDOs
(Carpentier, 2017). In Morocco, the National Initiative for Human Development and later the Green Morocco Plan
triggered the creation of many professional organisations and associations (Charfi, 2009). Some of the funding agen-
cies and programmes (e.g., the Moroccan Agency for the Development of Oases and Argan forests) offer LDOs the
opportunity to propose their own projects, through calls for project proposals.
In Algeria, the stated goal of the Rural Renewal Programme, which was created in the 2000s, was to promote
bottom-up approaches to the design of integrated development plans (Saidoun et al., 2021). This programme
supported the emergence of professional organisations in the agricultural sector, as well as associations involved in
social and environmental issues (Boudedja, 2013). Around 4000 associations were created to promote activities
related to women and youth (Algerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2019).
The second driver of the increase in the number of LDOs was the capacity of rural inhabitants. In Algeria, where
international development organisations provide less support than in Tunisia and Morocco, self-funded associations
are active particularly in regions where there is a long tradition of community management (Mihoubi, 2015). What is
more, the rural inhabitants of all three countries have improved their capacity to negotiate with development organi-
sations and public administrations (Faysse et al., 2016). A variety of leader profiles emerged alongside the traditional
nobility, and some leaders founded their legitimacy on their literacy and their capacity to successfully engage with
administrative procedures to obtain funding (Kadiri et al., 2015).
Bessaoud (2008) proposed typologies of North African rural LDOs, while Baron and Hattab-Christmann (2005)
proposed a typology of Moroccan associations. These typologies distinguish two groups. The first group
encompasses LDOs which obtain funds from development actors and often have a relationship of dependency on
these actors, who tend to control the fields of actions of the LDOs. Ait Hamadouche (2017) considers that most civil
society organisations in Algeria display dependency on the political system. Similarly, Bergh (2010) contended that a
high proportion of rural LDOs in the 2000s in the Haouz Region of Morocco had a passive posture vis-à-vis external
actors. The second group comprises LDOs that obtain funding on their own, without the support of public develop-
ment actors, and that maintain limited connections with public authorities (Bessaoud, 2008), while Baron and
Hattab-Christmann (2005) considered that LDOs in the second group achieved some autonomy. However, there are
also examples of state created or donor encouraged organisations achieving such autonomy or rather renegotiating
their dependence on the state or on donors (Bekkari & Yépez del Castillo, 2011; Kuper et al., 2009).
In Morocco, farmers' organisations have long been involved in the design and implementation of plans to
improve agricultural value chains. However, in all three countries, public administrations generally accord little impor-
tance to the question of whether rural LDOs should be involved in diverse fields of action to address the different
dimensions of local development, either by one LDO or a group of LDOs. One exception is agricultural development
groups in Tunisia, which have been the centre of extensive discussion as to whether groups responsible for irrigation
management could venture into other activities (Al Atiri, 2006; Ben Mustapha Jacox, 2016). The answer was no, as
the Tunisian Ministry of Agriculture, Water Resources and Sea Fisheries finally judged that agricultural development
82 HAMAMOUCHE ET AL.
groups in charge of irrigation management should remain focused on this activity. LDOs in rural areas of North Africa
have thus generally played a limited role in defining the content of public policies for the development of rural terri-
tories (Chenoune et al., 2017; Faysse et al., 2010).
3|METHODOLOGY
3.1 |Study areas
The present study was carried out in the Drâa-Tafilalet region in Morocco, Ghardaïa province in Algeria, and in the
governorates of Medenine and Kebili in Tunisia (Figure 1). Farmed land in these Saharan regions has increased in
recent decades as a result of different social and economic processes. First, nomadic populations have become seden-
tary (Rignall & Kusunose, 2018). Second, remittances from international migration have contributed to economic devel-
opment, thereby improving standards of living while simultaneously enabling the empowerment of marginalised ethnic
groups (de Hass, 2006). Third, farmers started cultivating new land outside the oases because they considered oases
as restrictive (because of constraints such as social hierarchies, fragmentation of plots or inheritance conflicts) and
because these new lands were seen as more conducive to individual initiatives (Bensaâd, 2011; Mekki et al., 2013).
At the same time, public authorities promoted agricultural expansion to increase agricultural exports and reduce
imports of food products, especially cereals (Tayeb, 2019). Agriculture in these newly farmed lands mainly focuses
on high market value crops (dates, olives, watermelon, etc.) and is usually enabled by private boreholes that tap
groundwater (Hamamouche et al., 2018). However, this process can lead to the depletion of aquifers (Mekki
et al., 2013) and affects soil and water quality (Marlet et al., 2009). At the same time, the future of traditional oases
is a growing concern, as oases are characterised by the very small plots, the dominance of low-value date palm varie-
ties and strong urbanisation (Carpentier, 2017). In some areas, intensive migration triggered changes in farming sys-
tems and catalysed a transition to non-agricultural livelihoods (Kusunose & Rignall, 2018).
3.2 |Analytical framework and data collection
Our analysis of changes in LDOs considered two dimensions. The first is the organisations' fields of action: those
defined at their creation and those defined later on. We analysed activities that provide direct services or support to
FIGURE 1 The three study areas
HAMAMOUCHE ET AL.83
members or rural communities. The second dimension is the resources the LDOs exploited to begin their activities
and possibly later to expand them: the sources of funding and the connections developed by the LDOs with external
actors. These connections were analysed according to the type of actors with whom LDOs were in touch, the media
used and the use LDOs made of these connections.
Our study focuses on the scope of activities undertaken by LDOs and the means used to implement them. It
does not considerand makes no claims with regards tothe actual functioning of the LDOs surveyed. In particular,
it does not analyse their governance (e.g., the way grassroots members control the management committee) or their
performance (e.g., the effectiveness and impacts of the activities they undertake).
Our aim was to identify the range of activities undertaken by LDOs. Therefore, we asked actors (administration
staff, members of NGOs, farmers) in the study areas to put us in touch with LDOs they considered as enabling posi-
tive rural and agricultural dynamics or having a strong potential for territorial development. The 24 organisations
identified are thus by no means representative of rural LDOs in the study areas.
Among these 24 organisations, one already existed before 1980 (this is a customary organisation with no legal
status), seven were created between 1980 and 2009 and the remaining 16 organisations were created from 2010
on. The number of members of the organisations ranged from 7 to 100. Table 1presents these 24 organisations
according to their legal status.
Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 37 members (29 men and 8 women) of the executive committees of
the 24 LDOs. The interviews took place between June 2019 and March 2020. The interviewees were the presidents, vice-
presidents or treasurers of formal structures, and in Algeria, the leaders of the customary organisation. First, interviewees
provided information about themselves, including their level of education and their role in the organisation. Second, they
explained the reasons for the creation of the LDO and the objectives of the founding members. Third, they described the
fieldsofactionoftheorganisationandwhy,whenandhowtheorganisationbecameinvolvedintheseparticularfields.
Finally, the interviewees identified the resources they used for each activity: the sources of funding, the actors with whom
the organisation was in contact and the communication channels used by the organisation both to obtain funding and for
everyday management. We also attended 14 meetings between members of the executive committees.
In what follows, we illustrate to what extent and how the 24 organisations we studied expanded their fields of
action and the means they used to do so. First we analyse the actors responsible for the creation of the organisations
and the first activities they undertook. Second, we analyse the diversification of the original fields of action and the
emergence of new fields. Third, we analyse the funding mechanisms used by the LDOs. Fourth, we study the inser-
tion of the LDOs in networks of actors at local, regional, national and international levels. Finally, we investigate
which actors initiated the expansion of the activities of LDOs.
4|RESULTS
4.1 |Original fields of action
In 11 organisations, the idea of creating the LDO and of the first actions undertaken came from the members, in nine
organisations, from the staff of public institutions, and in four organisations, the LDO was co-constructed by mem-
bers and supporting actors (public actors or NGOs) (Table 2).
Seventeen of the organisations studied originally focused on water management and agricultural production.
Many farmers' groups already had long experience in collective action on these two topics. The customary organisa-
tion studied in Algeria had been managing water for centuries and continued to do so despite the lack of a legal sta-
tus. In several LDOs, the public authorities had long acknowledged or promoted farmers' collective action on these
two topics. For instance, two water users' associations in Morocco were created to replace customary organisations,
to formalise water management in collective irrigation schemes and to promote agricultural development. Organisa-
tions also supplied agricultural inputs to their members or organised the processing and marketing of agricultural
84 HAMAMOUCHE ET AL.
products. For instance, olive production started in the 2000s in Ghardaïa region, but at that time, there was no olive
oil mill in the region. The Salama farmers' group received funds to purchase an olive oil mill and, in that way,
supported the emerging olive oil value chain.
Seven other organisations had, since their creation, ventured into three fields of action that are much more
rarely considered as traditional areas of intervention of LDOs in rural regions in North Africa: social action, non-
agricultural activities and environmental protection. In none of these seven cases was the activity initiated in a top-
down way. Rather, the activities were developed either thanks to the members' own initiative or emerged as a joint
initiative between members and supporting actors (Table 2). For instance, the Moroccan Afaq association was cre-
ated in 2001 by a young university graduate with the aim of promoting sports and cultural activities and entertain-
ment opportunities for young people. In Tunisia, a group of inhabitants created Nakhla association in 2012 to
promote awareness-raising and advocacy actions in favour of safeguarding oases. None of the legal statuses of the
organisations we studied (listed in Table 1) prevented them from diversifying their actions.
4.2 |Diversification of fields of action
In the LDOs surveyed, diversification was first an extension of the original activities in the same fields of action, as
additional needs gradually emerged. For instance, the Al Itkane farmers' group in Tunisia originally focused on
TABLE 2 Distribution of the LDOs according to original fields of action
Creation of the LDO and choice of the original fields of action
Inspired by
members (N=11)
Joint initiative involving
members and supporting
actors (N=4)
Inspired by supporting
actors (N=9)
Original fields of action
Water management and
agricultural production
71 9
Social action/non-agricultural
activities
22 0
Environmental protection 2 1 0
Choice of subsequent fields of action
Inspired by members 8 1 2
Joint initiative involving members
and supporting actors
33 6
Inspired by supporting actors 0 0 1
TABLE 1 Local rural development organisations analysed in the present study
Customary
organisation
Associations or
farmers groups
Cooperatives or
mutual companies
Morocco 6 associations (including 1 women's
association) and 2 water users' associations
3 cooperatives (including 1 women's
cooperative)
Algeria 1 organisation 3 associations 1 common interest group
Tunisia 2 associations, 4 agricultural development
groups (including 2 women's groups)
2 mutual companies for agricultural
services
HAMAMOUCHE ET AL.85
organic date farming and then expanded to develop a collective system of drip irrigation and organised agricultural
training for young people. Second, among the 24 organisations studied, six were active in only one of the four fol-
lowing fields: water management, agricultural production, environmental protection and social action. The other
18 organisations gradually expanded their actions to other fields: four into two fields, ten into three fields and four
into four fields. A fifth field of action also emerged from 2010 onwards: the provision of public services (Figure 2).
For instance, the Association for the Defence of Jemna Oasis in Tunisia took over the management of a palm grove
and used the profits to build a marketplace and classrooms and also contributed to the rehabilitation of the drinking
water supply and sewage networks.
The LDOs extended their actions for three reasons. First, diversification was a way to better support the mem-
bers in their daily activities. Second, diversification enabled LDOs to address the various dimensions of their own
vision of sustainable development in their communities. For example, the Association for the Protection of Environ-
ment of Ben IsgenAPEBin Algeria and Nakhla association and Al Itkane farmers' group in Tunisia became proac-
tive. In 2018, these three organisations started to produce compost from organic waste collected in the oases. In this
way, they obtained a natural fertiliser and simultaneously removed organic waste (which is a potential source of plant
diseases and a fire hazard) from the oases. These organisations also carried out other actions to promote the transi-
tion to agro-ecological practices, such as organic farming and the use of local seeds, and the reintroduction of live-
stock and stratified farming (fruit trees and herbaceous crops) under the palm trees. The two organisations in Tunisia
promoted drip irrigation and the creation of small storage basins to increase water use efficiency. APEB helped
restore a dozen wells used for groundwater recharge from flood waters. APEB and Nakhla association helped
women participate in local fairs and festivals to sell their agricultural and other products. The three organisations also
undertook actions in support of village infrastructure; for instance, they planted trees in the streets and helped reno-
vate schools.
Third, some interviewees described diversification as a way to free themselves from the control of the donors at
the origin of the creation of their organisation. Among the 13 organisations whose first actions were initiated by
supporting actors or were inspired jointly by these actors and members of LDOs, nine later started other actions
using funds obtained from other organisations. The president of one LDO told us that the diversification of the
fields of action allowed us to free ourselves from the original donors and their compartmentalised vision of
FIGURE 2 Changes in the fields of actions of the organisations studied
86 HAMAMOUCHE ET AL.
development which leaves no room for local initiative []. You are set a course and you have to follow it []. Some-
times this course is not appropriate or even contradicts the local context.
Diversification of the LDOs' fields of action mainly began in 2010 (Figure 2). For instance, some Moroccan LDOs
started actions for environmental protection. The Afgan association improved artificial groundwater recharge by
diverting floodwater to mitigate the impact of groundwater overuse. The Bougafer association was created in the
1990s thanks to the initiative of some inhabitants with the aim of promoting the local cultural patrimony. The inhabi-
tants of the village where the association is located used to wash clothes in irrigation canals, resulting in pollution of
the water by detergents. To solve this problem, the Bougafer association applied to the administration in the 2010s
to build a collective laundry and a small wastewater treatment plant to treat the wastewater produced by the
laundry.
LDOs also ventured into social action, that is, activities linked to culture, sport, education and health. In the
Tazarine municipality in Morocco, in 2016, a young female graduate created a women's association to promote the
socio-economic inclusion of girls. She had observed that some girls left the education system at puberty because
their parents could not afford to buy sanitary towels and schools lacked sanitary facilities. To solve this problem, the
women's association organised the production of washable sanitary towels with the financial support of a French
NGO. This women's association also organised language classes, sports sessions for women and meetings on
women's health and rights in collaboration with national and foreign associations. In 2016, the Moroccan Afaq asso-
ciation started providing support for women in the production and marketing of women's articles (bags, purses,
wipes) made from recycled fabric. In 2018, the Bougafer association set up a sewing group for vulnerable women
(widows with children) who sought income-generating activities. This project was funded by the National Initiative
for Human Development and the United Nations Development Programme. In Algeria, two organisations taught
ancestral farming practices and know-how to young generations. Since 2018, in the school holidays, the boys have
been introduced to the system for sharing irrigation water, learned about different date varieties and how to climb
palm trees.
Most LDO activities were about providing goods or services to their members or communities. In a very few
cases, the LDOs we studied worked in partnership to achieve actions not linked to service provision. For instance,
the Ennadjah mutual company for agricultural services was created by the Tunisian Ministry of Agriculture to supply
livestock feed. In 2014, this company entered a partnership with an international university based in France. Their
collaboration involved (1) the choice of topics for internships and support for the implementation of the internships;
(2) support for capacity-building of young farmers and of the agricultural workforce; and (3) the development of pri-
vate and collective services for farmers and other actors in the agricultural and rural development sectors and sup-
port for the marketing of artisanal products.
4.3 |Diversification of funding sources
Most of the 24 organisations obtained funds from donor agencies: 17 from foreign institutional donors and NGOs
and 13 from state development institutions. Some organisations obtained funds from more than one donor. For
instance, from 2003 to 2020, Afanour water users' association in Morocco obtained funds granted by seven foreign
organisations and one public institution to plant a new palm grove on collective land and to manage it collectively.
Fifteen of these organisations obtained funds through calls for project proposals. One of these organisations was a
women's agricultural development group in Tunisia, who responded to a call for project proposals launched by the
British Council in 2019. The call aimed to support Tunisian civil society in implementing community projects and
communication actions targeting young and marginalised populations. The fund granted to the women's agricultural
development group enabled the purchase of equipment for the distillation of aromatic and medicinal plants.
Organisations were also active in obtaining funds from their members, from inhabitants of the community where
the organisation was based or from members of the diaspora who originated from the community. Contributions in
HAMAMOUCHE ET AL.87
the form of labour provided by community members decreased and were progressively replaced by a financial contri-
bution. Three organisations (among which the Afgan Association in Morocco and the Oumana El Sayel customary
organisation in Algeria) only used funds obtained from members of the community and from the diasporaoriginating
from the community.
Four organisations were able to expand their fields of action by reinvesting the profit they made. For instance,
the Anounizme water users' association in Morocco used the profits obtained from collecting water fees to contrib-
ute to the purchase of a small school bus.
Some LDOs also obtained funds thanks to links with economic actors. One organisation benefitted from a loan
granted by a bank and another obtained an advance on the purchase of dates by a private export firm, to fund
projects in support of agricultural development. The Al Itkane farmers' group in Tunisia was part of a fair-trade certi-
fication scheme. Members of the group decided that the annual fair-trade premium should be used in the following
way: 70% for agricultural development and the remaining 30% for social and environmental activities. For instance,
funds for agricultural activities served to purchase agricultural inputs and tools and to maintain the irrigation and
drainage system. Funds for social and environmental issues served to purchase school supplies for the children of
members and to help pay to build a primary school.
The sources of funds obtained by LDOs can be categorised in five types: (1) public administrations; (2) foreign
development organisations; (3) contributions from local members or from members of the diaspora; (4) reinvestment
of profits; and (5) loans and free-trade premiums. Since 2010, the organisations we studied have managed to expand
their sources of funding (Figure 3). Among the 24 organisations studied, 12 obtained funds from two types of
funding sources, six from three different types and one from four different types. For instance, four organisations
mixed grants and collective contributions. In Algeria, a public administration and the European Union paid 65% of
the investment costs of the olive oil mill that was to be managed by the Salama farmers' group, and members of the
group paid the remaining 35%.
The skills of LDO leaders were a key asset in the relationships with donors. First, the 37 interviewees generally
had a high level of formal education (23 had a university degree and 8 had the school-leaving exam). They used their
academic skills to obtain funding, for instance by applying for a grant or writing a business plan. Second, 16 of the
leaders had previously acquired experience in associations while they were at university or after returning to rural
areas. They had experience in dealing with public administrations and NGOs. They had learned to match their project
FIGURE 3 Changes in the sources of funding obtained by organisations studied
88 HAMAMOUCHE ET AL.
with the donor's objectives and to meet the criteria used to evaluate proposals. For instance, a Moroccan LDO which
collected, processed and marketed cumin wrote a project proposal to obtain funding. They underlined the fact that
this crop was endogenous and would not require large amounts of irrigation water (and was thus adapted to climate
change). They also put forward gender issues, as eight vulnerable women (widows and/or divorcees with children)
were involved in one of its projects.
4.4 |Participation in multiple national and international networks
Interviewees were well integrated in networks that connected them to rural development actors at national and
international level. Table 3lists some of these networks and some of the objectives they helped achieve. Belonging
to national and international networks allowed interviewees to access information on funding opportunities. The
LDOs also used networks to access training. Nineteen of the organisations studied had benefitted from capacity-
building activities, such as professional training, field schools and national and international exchanges. For instance,
two members of the Afaq association took a sewing course in France funded by an NGO. Similarly, linked to the
diversification of funding sources, members of the organisations we studied often received training from different
actors. For instance, members of the Etahadi Tunisian women's group travelled to meet experienced Tunisian
women's groups with the support of the Ministry of Agriculture. They also received training in farming and breeding
funded by the World Bank. Capacity-building activities generally focused on technical aspects, but the interviewees
also underlined their interest in receiving training in managerial skills. In Morocco, only four organisations out of the
11 benefitted from training on project design and management and organisational management.
National and foreign actors also supported three of the organisations in marketing their products. Most of the
washable sanitary towels and other women's articles made from recycled fabrics produced by two women's associa-
tions in Morocco were exported to France to be sold by a French NGO.
Sixteen of the 24 organisations we studied used Internet and social media. According to the president of one
association, the web and digital communication platforms play a crucial role. They allow organisations to open up to
the outside world and to free themselvesfrom their specific location to seek financial resources or training oppor-
tunities at the international level. For instance, the president of the women's association in Tazarine in Morocco dis-
covered on Facebook that the French embassy had launched a call for project proposals. She submitted a proposal
with the support of an NGO which was accepted. Two other organisations used Facebook and WhatsApp to collect
funds from community members and from migrants originating from the community who lived in other parts of the
country or abroad. In both cases, the funds collected were used to build and maintain groundwater recharge infra-
structure. Twelve organisations used digital communication platforms as tools for disseminating information about
their activities with the aim of strengthening their links with members of the community and other development
organisations. For instance, the interviews we conducted with members of the executive committees of several rural
organisations in Tunisia ended with a group photo that was immediately published on Facebook.
TABLE 3 Involvement of the 24 organisations in networks
Network of actors
Use
Obtaining information on
funding opportunities
Capacity
building
Marketing of
products
Number of LDOs connected to foreign public
organisations and foreign NGOs
12 12 2
Number of LDOs connected to national public
administrations and national NGOs
14 10 3
HAMAMOUCHE ET AL.89
4.5 |Proactivity of the LDOs in moving to new fields of action
The bottom part of Table 2shows the actors who took the initiative to expand the fields of action of the LDOs. The
actions labelled inspired by membersin this table were first discussed at the local level, and LDOs then looked for
funding. The leaders of LDOs we interviewed mentioned that activities labelled as a joint initiative involving LDO
members and supporting actorshad emerged from discussions between members of LDOs or community members,
LDO leaders and supporting actors. These leaders emphasised that the supporting actors had not decided on the
activities prior to these discussions.
Of the nine LDOs whose first action was initiated by supporting actors, only one LDO remained under the influ-
ence of the actors when expanding its fields of action. This LDO was the Salama farmers' group, which was created
to manage an olive oil processing plant co-financed by the state to strengthen the olive oil sector in Ghardaia region.
All subsequent actions (e.g., distribution of young olive trees and olive harvesting equipment) were piloted by public
organisations. This LDO acted as an intermediary between the organisations and farmers to implement the initiatives
identified by the former.
The other eight LDOs which were created based on supporting actors' initiatives gained autonomy by
implementing new actions. Two of them later developed initiatives from the bottom up, that is, in collaboration with
local communities. For instance, the Anounizme Water Users' Association in Morocco was created by the state in
the 1990s to manage collective irrigation systems. In the 2010s, the young leaders of this association came up with
the idea of strengthening the traditional irrigation system by installing solar pumps and storing water in a collective
irrigation basin before distributing it to users. Once the project was defined, they used social networks and the Inter-
net to look for foreign donors. In 2016, they answered a call for proposals launched by the German Embassy in
Morocco and their proposal was accepted. According to the president of this LDO: Every year, we organise a ple-
nary session and invite the whole community (i.e. men and women) to discuss future social projects to be financed,
such as the purchase of a school bus, the construction of a nursery, and the creation of a pastry shop that will be
managed by women. These LDOs managed to find funding opportunities that did not impose strict limits on the
topics that can receive funds.
As can be seen in Table 2, while only four LDOs originated from a joint initiative of members and external actors,
12 LDOs later developed activities in partnership with external actors. For instance, the Ait Matan agricultural coop-
erative in Morocco obtained funds to purchase a henna processing machine and transport equipment thanks to sev-
eral local development programmes coordinated by different state institutions. In these cases, the LDOs often
obtained funds from programmes that had already defined specific issues. These actions generally aimed to improve
the income of the members through the sale of products.
Out of the 11 LDOs that had been created based on members' initiatives, eight continued to be completely
independent in the choice of the new fields of actions. This was the case of Al Itkane farmers' group in
Tunisia. According to the president of this LDO: we propose projects based on the needs of the local popula-
tion. Our projects must meet four criteria: improving the income of date producers, improving the well-being of
the local population, creating jobs for young people (men and women), and protecting the environment. Once
the projects had been set up, presented and validated by the local community, the LDO submitted them to for-
eign donors.
5|DISCUSSION
5.1 |Increased agency
The organisations we studied managed to make use of new opportunities, such as the increased use of calls for pro-
ject proposals in donors' funding process. LDOs managed to do so thanks to increased agency based on specific skills
90 HAMAMOUCHE ET AL.
and on the development of strong regional, national and international networks. As reported in previous studies on
rural North Africa (Abdellaoui et al., 2015; Faysse & Thomas, 2016; Kadiri & Errahj, 2015; Quarouch et al., 2015),
leaders of LDOs were able to use the skills they had acquired during their academic training and previous experience
to see the state(Corbridge et al., 2005) and the world of development actors, that is, to understand their inner
functioning and how to interact with them. These increased capacities generally did not entail a professionalisation
process as many LDOs have no paid staff and, among those that do have paid staff, diversification generally did not
result in the hiring of additional staff.
The organisations we studied achieved some autonomy from development actors, but in a different way from
that described in the studies by Bessaoud (2008) and Baron and Hattab-Christmann (2005), in which LDOs were
seen as either dependent on development actors or as trying to keep a distance from them. For the LDOs we stud-
ied, being independent did not mean having no links with development actors, rather, it meant being able to decide
on their objectives and on their organisations' strategies on their own. Diversification of their sources of funding
enabled most LDOs to avoid being dependent on any of the sources. However, in contrast with a study on NGOs in
Ghana (Arhin et al., 2018), their increased independence from donors was only one motive among others or was a
consequence of diversification.
LDOs managed to remain independent thanks to their improved capacity to handle relations with develop-
ment actors. This had already been identified in a few case studies of LDOs in rural North Africa (for instance,
Faysse & Thomas, 2016). The present study emphasises the diversity of LDOs in rural North Africa, in terms of
types of activities and in terms of structure, which have become able to proactively handle relations with the
development sphere.
5.2 |Expanding horizons
The LDOs we studied became involved in new fields in which associations in urban areas had already been involved
(e.g., social action, Saaf, 2016) but which were quite new in the Saharan regions of North Africa. LDOs had a less and
less sector-specific view of their role and became more ambitious concerning their contribution to the different
dimensions of local development.
Some LDOs we studied followed the path proposed by Korten (1990) of change from a first generation
NGO (focusing on specific needs) to a second generation NGO that aim to define and intervene according to a
broad vision of what they themselves consider as development. Four organisations (Nakhla, Al Itkane, APEB
and the Association for the Defence of Jemna Oasis) defined their own view of a pathway towards the sustain-
able development of their community. They started actions corresponding to the perceived economic, social
and environmental dimensions of this pathway. Some actions involved investing in public infrastructure (schools,
hospital, school buses); a domain North African states have usually considered to be their exclusive
responsibility.
The interviewees we met during this study put forward their willingness to address the needs of members or
inhabitants. However, the diversification of activities may also have been driven by other motives, such as the
willingness to seize funding opportunities, the leaders' own employment or career objectives (Ftouhi
et al., 2020)and several motives may be present at the same time. Several authors reported cases of LDOs in
rural areas of North Africa in which a small elite, who were the only people with the skills and social networks
needed to interact with donors, failed to share decision making with other members. The latter were reduced to
a role of beneficiaries or sometimes to a role of providing labour to the organisation (Montanari & Bergh, 2019;
Perry, 2020). A complementary study is needed to assess to what extent LDOs take the views of their members
on the issues to be tackled to address local development into account and to identify the role of their organisa-
tions in addressing these issues. This will involve opening the black boxof how these organisations actually
function.
HAMAMOUCHE ET AL.91
5.3 |A partner in action, not yet in reflection
Some LDOs we studied worked in partnership with other NGOs and, in one case, with a university. However, con-
trary to what has been reported in other developing countries (Banks et al., 2015), public development actors did not
consider the LDOs we studied as partners in defining a vision of the sustainable development of their communities.
The LDOs we studied did not influence public policy design at the local level, nor were they involved in multi-
stakeholder processes designed to tackle issues that required coordination and negotiation between actors at vari-
ous scales. In particular, this concerned development issues that the LDOs had identified as important, but which are
not covered by public policies. For instance, the leaders of LDOs in Kebili governorate in Tunisia said that groundwa-
ter overuse was a major obstacle to agricultural sustainability but that the administration was taking few initiatives
to tackle the problem and no LDOs were involved in actions to address this issue.
Based on the typology of roles of NGOs proposed by Lewis et al. (2020), the LDOs we studied were widely
acknowledged in their roles of implementers at local level and possibly as catalysts of change in the behaviours of
inhabitants but not as catalysts of change among development actors nor as actors able to contribute to developing
a vision of the development of their communities.
One major reason for this limitation is that until now, opportunities for the participatory definition of public poli-
cies in rural North Africa have been limited. This concerns the most recent agricultural and rural development poli-
cies, which have often been defined to address sector-specific issues, for example, improving a particular agricultural
value chain. The limitation also concerns the integrated rural development plans designed and implemented in rural
areas in the past in all three countries (e.g., Akerkar, 2015). The participation of local inhabitants in these plans was
limited or loosely structured. This integrated approach to rural development was subsequently sidelined. The
approach used by the LDOs studied here amounted to renewal with a more integrated view of rural development in
their territories of action, but public actors do not recognise the interest of this approach.
6|CONCLUSION
The expansion of the fields of action of the LDOs studied here has accelerated impressively since 2010. LDOs
became active in a wide range of development issues, which was made possible thanks to new opportunities
(e.g., donors' increased willingness to support bottom-up initiatives) and increased capacities. But this diversification
is primarily a sign of the capacities of LDOs to define the issues and the activities that can be set up to address these
issues on their own. LDOs have learned to deal with development actors in a way that means support from the latter
does not weaken their autonomy.
Many studies of LDOs in rural areas of developing countries put the relation between these organisations and
other development actors at the core of their analysis. In this view, the activities of LDOs were mainly seen as a sign
of dependency on other development actors or as a result of a strategy to gain independence. Using the diversifica-
tion of activities of LDOs as an entry point for analysis made it possible to understand the changes LDOs have
undergone by considering them as actors able to define their own goals and capable of taking the initiative, not
merely as actors who react to changing constraints and opportunities in the development arena.
The LDOs we studied have de facto become actors in the definition and implementation of local development.
However, public administrations still only marginally acknowledge this role. Supporting partnerships between these
LDOs, public administrations and other development actors, in (re)building an integrated view of rural development
is certainly worth considering.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
The research was carried out in the frame of the MASSIRE project (Integrating multiple water sources and local institu-
tions for enhanced food security in North Africa's hinterland by reinforcing agricultural and rural innovation systems)
92 HAMAMOUCHE ET AL.
funded by International Fund for Agricultural Development. We thank interviewed members of LDOs for their sup-
port in undertaking the research. We also thank the two anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments.
DATA AVAILABILITY STATEMENT
The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable
request.
ORCID
Meriem Farah Hamamouche https://orcid.org/0000-0001-8056-6183
Nicolas Faysse https://orcid.org/0000-0002-5683-8473
Marcel Kuper https://orcid.org/0000-0002-1240-0592
Caroline Lejars https://orcid.org/0000-0002-7605-7092
Mostafa Errahj https://orcid.org/0000-0002-1891-2791
Zakaria Kadiri https://orcid.org/0000-0003-1156-7451
Nadhira Ben Aissa https://orcid.org/0000-0002-7906-4917
Ahmed Benmihoub https://orcid.org/0000-0002-9819-002X
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96 HAMAMOUCHE ET AL.
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