Promoting collective action for rural transformation in Tonga

By Soane Patolo, Monica Romano and Sakiusa Tubuna
©IFAD

In October 2016, the Tongan Government officially launched the newly formulated Community Development Plans (CDPs) prepared by communities living in Niuas, Vava’u, Ha’apai, ‘Eua and Tongatapu islands. The CDPs are a simple but effective mechanism to mobilize communities not only to identify their own development priorities, but also to mobilize support and assistance to improve rural people’s livelihoods.

The community plans were formulated adopting the successful approach tested under the IFAD-funded regional grant for the Mainstreaming of Rural Development Innovations (MORDI) and scaled up under the ongoing Tonga Rural Innovation Project – TRIP and by the Tongan Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA). The 136 CDPs were presented by the District Officers and Town Officers to the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Tonga, Honourable Samuela ‘Akilisi Pohiva, on 4 October 2016 in Nuku’alofa.

In his keynote speech, the Prime Minister emphasized the importance of establishing transparent and accountable governance mechanisms to keep people informed and to formulate appropriate policies.

The Prime Minister said that in order to be able to change we must begin by fixing our governance system to become more informed, more transparent and more accountable. To enlighten and to empower our people by obtaining the right information, giving people the opportunity to make an informed decision about their lives. But, most importantly in order to strengthen government to make the right policies, to set the right priorities, provide the right support, to be able to defend and protect the lives of our people, and ultimately to support the right development.

Among the communities involved in the CDP formulation, 60 communities are targeted under IFAD-supported TRIP, implemented by the Mordi Tonga Trust (MTT). 76 CDPs were formulated with financial assistance of the Government of Tonga through MIA, UN Women, and the Pacific Risk Resilience Programme (PRRP) supported by the Australian Government and implemented by UNDP and Live & Learn Environmental Education (LLEE), under the facilitation of TRIP project staff.

During the launch, IFAD stressed that MIA’s adoption of the community planning approach is a first example of scaling-up of an IFAD project by a Government in the Pacific. IFAD’s experience shows that community-driven development processes such as the formulation of CDPs are powerful mechanisms to promote collective action that results in empowering rural people and in making them lead and drive their own development pathway.

The community planning approach was first tested under the IFAD regional MORDI grant, which was implemented in Fiji, Kiribati, and Tonga in two phases from 2004 and 2012. It aimed to establish sustainable processes that enable remote rural communities to link with policy and planning processes. The CDPs have been effective in empowering very remote rural people to have a voice in decisions that affect their lives. This institutional model was successfully scaled up in selected communities in all regions of Tonga by TRIP, which is currently implemented in partnership with the Government of Tonga and MORDI Tonga Trust, with an IFAD financing of USD 3 million.

Target communities of TRIP include 53 communities located in the Outer Islands and 7 in the Tongatapu. TRIP promotes an integrated approach towards community development aiming to build the capacity of communities to identify their own development priorities, formulate their own CDPs, and optimize the allocation of financial resources from public and private sectors, development and donor agencies, and non- government organizations.

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