Concluding the IFAD-ICARDA workshop on knowledge and technology transfer in Aleppo, Syria, today

On Thursday, 29 October 2009

The Workshop on Knowledge and Technology Exchange for Enhanced Quality of IFAD/ICARDA Operations in the NENA region concluded its deliberations in Aleppo, Syria today with a “Retreat” that discussed the Medium Term Management Plan 2010-2012 of IFAD’s Near East and North Africa Division (PN). The participating staff of IFAD and IFAD-supported projects deliberated the operational priorities of PN, including means of improving implementation and impact of country programmes and ways to expand and strengthen the lending and grant programmes while improving efficiency in portfolio and project development. The participants also discussed PN’s Contribution to IFAD-wide results by means of enhancing partnerships, expanding co-financing and intensifying knowledge sharing and dissemination.

The participants then broke into four separate roundtables working group discussions focusing on four aspects of the division’s work, namely, the Annual Work Programme and Budget (AWPB), Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E), Procurement and Financial Management.

The AWPB Working Group predominantly consisted of country program managers of IFAD supported projects. Along with IFAD staff in the Working Group, the participants identified a number of constraints, including the quality of AWPBs. The group expressed the need to develop a model of reference for greater consistency. Another major impediment to AWPB planning and implementation is the often incongruence of financial administration between government and IFAD funds particularly due to the fact that government funds are usually not flexibly tuned to the annual format of AWPBs. The group recommended approaching governments with the idea that they should administer their funds through a local project account for the implementation period with the flexibility necessary to carry over government funds.

Another pressing and fundamental issue is the lack of synergy or fine tuning between AWPB and the Logframe. Implementing the AWPB often reduces the projects into its activities without enhancing appropriate linkages of these activities for impact. The group recommended that the Logframe should be the steering course of AWPBs and that it should be updated continuously. This also was linked directly to another issue, the flexibility of AWPB. The AWPB should be adjustable more frequently and less constrained by current restrictions. Often there are also stalls in the planning and delivery of AWPB particularly due to the national procedures for approval and the participants emphasized the need for early proactive planning. The group also recommended that capacity building in preparation for implementation of AWPB should be a concentrated continuous effort. The fact that the planning of the project is imbedded in the AWPB under the overall Logframe makes it fundamental to implementation and impact making capacity building all the more crucial.

Finally the last issue raised was that knowledge management and innovation is not reflected in the AWPBs. This lack of reflection reduces the effectiveness of knowledge management and innovation support to the project. This support can go someway in enhancing capacity of project management units and supporting innovative management and intervention, which all fundamentally contribute to greater impact of projects.

The M&E working group discussed the impediments to more effective M&E systems in the IFAD-supported projects. Chief among them are dissymmetric perceptions with regard to the importance of M&E. Some Governmental officials tend to pay more attention to physical progress (i.e. output) than to measurements of outcomes and impacts. Another reported issue is pertaining to the M&E design itself whereby too many indicators, some of them are not relevant to the country context, are being monitored. Furthermore, there seems to be a disconnect in some Project Management Units between M&E staff and the rest of the project staff. A list of suggestions for M&E improvement was proposed:

  • Sound and pertinent M&E system should be devised at the project design stage and not during start-up as it seems to be the case in most of the projects

  • Empowering M&E staff through capacity building aimed at fostering the Monitoring for Evaluation approach

  • Work with the Governments to foster awareness related to the necessity to measure impact

The Procurement working group addressed the need for capacity building at the PMU level with a view to strengthening the skills of PMU staff in managing procurement. The group made a series of recommendations to improve procurement performance by resolving the most common procurement challenges currently facing the on-going IFAD–assisted projects.

During the day, the workshop participants toured research stations within the ICARDA headquarters compound, where they were able to inspect some laboratories, facilities and filed experiments in areas of soil conservation and water harvesting. The participants had the opportunity to interact with the researchers at these well equipped facilities and discuss practical solutions to problem facing IFAD’s going projects. This includes a wide range of released technologies and services offered by the GIS department that are suitable to improve interventions in the agro-climatic zones where IFAD is active.

Nadim Khouri, Director of PN closed the workshop with a presentation in which he highlighted the major achievements of three decades of cooperation between the IFAD and ICARDA, during which the Fund provide US$37 million in grants to the centre. He highlighted the sectoral distribution of these grants, of which 76 percent was allocated for applied research and technology transfer, 12 percent for management of natural resources, nine percent for value chain and three percent for capacity-building. He emphasized the importance of further enhancing cooperation with ICARDA building an even stronger strategic alliance between the two institutions. He again thanked the Government of the Arab Republic of Syria and ICARDA for hosting this important learning event.

On Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Participants at the IFAD-ICARDA workshop on Knowledge and Technology Transfer in Aleppo Syria have dedicated this day to field visits to sites of three IFAD-supported projects in Syria, the closed Jebel el-Hoss Agricultural Development, the on-going Idleb Rural Development Project and the on-going Badia Rangeland Development Project.

Participants who visited the Badia Rangelands Development Project reported that implementation of the project activities are being carried out by some 200 herder cooperatives. Each cooperative has about 100 members. The cooperatives collaborated with the BRDP in rangeland rehabilitation. The process works like this: the cooperative identifies the land that they would like to rehabilitate and discuss it with the management of the BRDP. Cooperatives usually allocate 500 Ha for rehabilitation. The characterisation of the plot of land takes place and the most appropriate method for rehabilitation is selected either through direct seeding of palatable range varieties or through the cultivation of forage trees. Where range reserves are being established, the cooperative provides the land and manages the grazing rights in the reserve; whereas the project provides the land preparation, cultivation and guarding for a period of 4 years.

The results are impressive. Despite the extended drought over the past years, and thanks to the selection of appropriate range varieties, implementation of high quality land preparation and cultivation practices, and very proactive project management, the results are generating more demand among cooperatives for replication. Key elements that we need to consider in the course of replication or adaptation of this methodology are:

  • the land tenure and the grazing rights and whether these are vested in homogeneous social units (tribes, sub-tribes);
  • the “representativity” of the herders’ cooperatives, their legal status and whether they include all users of a given geographic area; and
  • strict government enforcement of environmental rules and support to environmental development.

Participants in the field trip to the IFAD-supported Rural Development Project in Idleb were able to examine some of the major achievements of the project in helping about 42,000 beneficiaries in 140 of Syria’s poorest villages improve their food production and incomes.

At the total cost of almost US$45 million, the project has already reclaimed some 20,000 ha of rocky mountainous land plots turning them into productive small agricultural holdings. It has been highly successful in increasing the area cultivated with fruit trees and different seasonal crops, supporting agricultural extension and developing water resources and water harvesting techniques. The project has been particularly successful in reaching out to landless and poor rural women and men with microfinance and vocational training helping them develop their own micro enterprises and, thereby, generating incomes for themselves and contributing to job creations for others.

A good example of the many micro enterprises supported by the project is the mushroom farm of the 45 year old small producer, Abdulaziz Ismael, who received vocational training and technical support from the project. With an initial investment of US$2000, Abdulaziz has been able to initiate a mushroom farm in his underground garage. The Mushroom farm has come to represent a reliable source of income for Abdulaziz and his family, which consists of six members, granting it a comfortable standard of living.

As one of the most successful microfinance experiences in the Arab region, the so called “Village Funds” developed and supported by the Idleb project in 22 villages are yielding some extraordinary results with 100% repayment of all small loans by micro-entrepreneurs and a zero failure rate of on-going enterprises. IFAD will be developing some of the success stories of this project and its Village Funds in various communication products that will tell some of the most amazing successes of poor rural women and men in charting a better future for their families.