Embracing challenges as opportunities for transformation

By Rima Alcadi
The panel discussion on "Stories from the field : Investment in the transformation of rural people’s lives" involved 4 of our Country Programme Managers/Country Directors: Cristiana Sparacino, for Burkina Faso; Esther Kasalu-Coffin, for Haiti; Nigel Brett, for Bangladesh; and Nadine Gbossa, for Kenya. The panel was moderated by Kevin Cleaver, IFAD Associate Vice President for the Programme Management Department. The event was very useful for us to learn more about how IFAD-funded projects are transforming and having an impact on the lives of rural people. As highlighted by Kevin, IFAD overall is quite successful – with an 80%success rate. We can flaunt achievements in terms of positive impact on women, and on the environment. Our major challenges are working in fragile states, scaling up, ensuring that women have equal access to resources, and confronting environmental issues – particularly in the face of climate change. The stories from our Country Programme Managers/Country Directors are detailed below.

Burkina Faso: farmers coping with climate change
The Sahel is highly exposed to the impact of climate change and farmers in Burkina have been struggling to cope with climate change variability for decades. Because of this, they developed several agronomic practices, based on traditional land management techniques. These include soil and water conservation techniques and agro-forestry. IFAD works with farmers to improve their local techniques and support their innovations. As a result of IFAD and partners’ interventions, the phenomenon of re-greening of the Sahel is now taking place. Farmers have benefited from productivity increases in a series of nutritious, drought resistant and mainly rain-fed crops, such as sorghum, cowpea and millet. With climate change becoming more and more of an issue in the Sahel, fortunately successful agronomic practices adopted in Burkina Faso are being scaled out to other countries. What Cristiana highlighted as major ingredients contributing to success are: (a) supporting farmers’ knowledge; (b) ensuring government support; and (c) basing project design on lessons learnt from the field. Scaling out to other countries in the Sahel took place because she championed it: when she was Country Programme Manager for Mauritania, she went for a supervision mission in Burkina Faso and, when she saw farmers’ innovative agronomic practices, she promoted these in Mauritania by building these into the design of a new project.

Haiti: forging strategic partnerships to address capacity issues
Esther Kasalu-Coffin (photo by Suyun Kim)

Haiti is a country where IFAD has operated for over 35 years. Rural poverty reduction in Haiti is a challenge for several reasons, including  the fragility of key public institutions. Just imagine: Haiti has experienced 10 extreme natural disasters in the past decade, amongst which the catastrophic 2010 earthquake, which shocked the entire world and devastated the country. Throughout all these hardships, public institutional capacity has suffered. Notwithstanding these difficulties, IFAD funded investment projects have directly benefited more than 500,000 people in the rural areas. Because of the erosion in capacity in public institutions, IFAD and the government of Haiti have resorted to forging strategic partnerships at the national level, for instance with the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) to support the process of program management, as well as at the local level, well-established NGOs in the country, such as Welthungerhilfe. IFAD partners with the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank, and the European Union, to build the capacity of institutions in the sector, in a comprehensive manner. The out-posting of Esther Kasalu-Coffin herself is another valuable support that IFAD management is providing to the government.

Bangladesh: small fish = big difference
Bangladesh is covered with floodplains and rivers, which represent a rich ecosystems for freshwater fish. The floodplains comprise 80% of the country. Fish is essential in the Bangladeshi diet, constituting the main source of proteins and micro-nutrients in poor rural households. More than 80% of the animal protein in the Bangladeshi diet comes from fish. Yet the capture fishery is often badly managed. Productive water bodies attract the attention of powerful local elites and poor rural people often find themselves excluded and unable to benefit from this essential resource. The leasing system of these water bodies was for 3 years, providing no incentive for these resources to be managed properly. As a result, water bodies were exploited mercilessly. In 2003, the Government of Bangladesh worked with IFAD to change the leasing arrangements from 3 to 10 years and explored ways to ensure that poor fishermen could benefit from the water bodies. User groups with poor fishermen, and including women, were set up and supported to benefit from the new longer leasing arrangements. The results – from the financial, social and environmental perspectives - have been tremendous, as user groups are now investing in improving the fish production habitat of their water bodies. An evaluation of the project, by World Fish Center, noted that biodiversity and fish production increased significantly. The nutritional status of children also increased (with a notable decrease in stunting). This success is now being scaled up, with the involvement of other donors (Spanish Funds and JICA). 

Kenya: the poverty reduction business

Nadine Gbossa (photo by Jean-Philippe Decraene)
In Kenya, the government worked with the EU to introduce an input subsidy scheme, whereby farmers received improved seeds, fertilizers, and training on agronomic practices that led to a 150% increase in productivity. However, these excellent results were not sustainable as, without government support, farmers could not sustain the production surplus. Government of Kenya and the European Union approached IFAD to capitalize on the experience in supporting smallholders. The agreement was scaling up what works, but going beyond increasing productivity only. Productivity was understood as only one element of the equation. A value chain approach was also needed and access to financial services was a third essential element. Because IFAD recognised that smallholders needed to access the financial sector to sustain the investment in their business, IFAD brokered a partnership with Equity Bank – a leading bank when it comes to lending to small holders. Smallholder were registered, given credit cards to access inputs, provided with training in financial literacy and access to credit – not for philanthropic reasons– but because Equity Bank recognised that the programme support will mitigate risks and that the investment was good business. Banks are usually averse to investing in agriculture as it is considered a risky business. By providing better inputs (such as quality seeds, irrigation, capacity building on agronomic practices, fertilisers and so on), IFAD, the EU and the Government of Kenya are basically helping to hedge against the risks inherent in agriculture, thus making agriculture better business for Equity Bank as well as other banks!

These 4 stories give us a taste of what are the type of challenges IFAD staff face. However, these stories above are not only stories from the field – these are also stories of successful development practitioners, who have passion for what they are doing and who are not shying away from the inevitable difficulties and challenges they face. They are also stories of leaders who work in partnerships with others to identify opportunities and achieve great goals –IFAD’s goals. Listening to our 4 colleagues, I felt that there was a lot to learn from them, and that they were quite successful development practitioners who are helping us build the reputation of IFAD as centre of excellence. I asked myself: what makes them successful? I think that it’s their unwavering commitment, persistence, resilience, and especially their ability to deal with challenges.