When is a project sustainable?

The Paul Carlson Partnership (PCP) blog entry “What is a Sustainable Community?” got me thinking about what do we mean by sustainability? In the PCP blog, the question of sustainability is directed to the local community context. After visiting the Farmers to Market (FTM) project at Loko I started pondering, what does sustainability mean at the level of the bicycle transporters that are a part of the FTM project? Here’s the situation and the dilemma.

One part of the FTM project is to increase the number of bicycle transporters which haul produce from the villages to various markets. The project does this through a loan of the amount to purchase a bicycle. Over the next 11 months the loan is repaid. I’m told that the project gave loans for 40 bicycles and to date 13 of the loans have been repaid. The other loans are being repaid.

The question is, at what point is this sustainable such that the owner will have the means to repair his bicycle and replace it when necessary? He has received one loan and after paying off the loan, will the bicycle function long enough for him to earn enough to keep the bike repaired? And, when the bike needs to replace will he have earned enough to buy a replacement without getting another loan? From my conversations with Byron on this subject, I think probably not. I think the owner will need one more smaller loan to buy his next bike after which he should have improved his economic situation enough so he can buy his next bike without needing another loan.

The question is very important because if the owner is not able to replace his bike when needed, then has he been helped long term? Or just for a short time and then he’s almost back to where he was? I think that one of the key things we want to be involved in is to help something get moving so we don’t have to continue with the help.

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