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Written by: Stephen Twomlow

Targeting conservation agriculture (CA) remains a major challenge in Africa. Despite the common knowledge that CA can stabilize and increase crop yields, conserve and improve soil quality, success with its adoption on farms in Africa has been limited. Only where there have been supplementary investments, made to overcome the constraints of the existing system, has the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) noted widespread adoption of CA.

Conservation agriculture includes three main principles: i) reducing soil disturbance through minimum tillage or zero tillage; ii) maintaining permanent soil cover via crop residues and iii) crop rotation (diversity). Conservation agriculture is a challenge because of the diverse study of ecological processes that operate in agricultural production systems, market prices and desirability of different crops, and the sometimes increased cost for CA uptake for the smallholders.

Ripping a field in Manyala, Butere District 
©CIAT - Kihara J. & Adolwa, I.S.

IFAD and the Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security Organisation (CCAFS) commissioned two studies with the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD) to identify supporting and hindering factors for the adoption of conservation agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). The first1 reviewed the effects of conservation agriculture on crop yields, identifying the agro-ecological and management conditions that favour positive crop responses. The second study2, explored the merits of an assessment tool to predict the likelihood of conservation agriculture adoption in a given project region.

Rotations with different green manure cover crops in CA 
©Christian Thierfelder, CIMMYT, Zimbabwe

Combination is the key 

The key findings and future plans from the first study proved that the combination of the three main principles of conservation agriculture are not, in many situations, an option. For instance, no-tillage has to be associated with mulching to result in higher crop yield. Additionally, crop rotation has to be an integral component with farmers moving from continuous mono-cropping systems to the inclusion of different crop types and preferably vegetables. These two factors are, for many smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa, the bottlenecks to adoption. Crop residues have several other competing uses on the farm, in particular as feed for livestock. 

Additionally the first study, using a comparison of results from 41 papers illustrating 61 independent study sites and experiments, demonstrated the importance of high nitrogen fertilizer application. Crop yields are generally low in SSA and organic residues in short supply. The use of fertilizer to enhance crop productivity and organic residue availability is essential for smallholder farmers to engage in CA. 

Predicting conservation agriculture adoption potential 

There is a qualitative expert assessment tool for conservation agriculture adoption (QAToCA). The tool was designed to predict the relative CA adoption potential in different regions. The second study that was commissioned explored the degree of accuracy of the qualitative expert assessment tool for CA adoption.
CA2Africa scales of implementation and QAToCA Coverage ©Steve Twomlow
The second study2 diagnosed the supporting and hindering factors of adoption in a given project. It was discovered that the QAToCA tool can help in identification of the socio-ecological niches (e.g. preferences, prices, production objectives etc.) and specific sites for successful promotion of diverse CA practices and technologies in SSA with some limitations.

It also identified that the cost and availability of certain inputs (e.g. specialised no-tillage implements, vegetable seeds and fertilisers) is a limiting factor. Other identified elements were the increase in labour if herbicides are not used, as well as the conflict in the use of cereal residues for mulching and cattle feeding. The practice of free grazing by cattle of neighbouring farms is another restrictive factor.

Furthermore, a crucial management aspect with respect to the successful implementation of CA is the political and institutional conditions, as government programmes, such as the purchase and promotion of ploughs and tractors for rent, might hamper the introduction or diminish wider dissemination of CA.

Further research will explore the social and agro-ecological domains where CA is expected to work best in Sub-Saharan Africa.

[1] Corbeels, M. et al., 2014. Meta-analysis of crop yield responses to CA. Report of CCAFS-IFAD grant to CIRAD. Part I.

2  Corbeels, M. et al., 2014. The use and evaluation of the QATOCA tool for targeting conservation agriculture technologies. Report of CCAFS-IFAD grant to CIRAD. Part II.

By Harold Liversage, regional land advisor, and Steven Jonckheere, land and natural resources associate for IFAD in East and Southern Africa.

Multi-stakeholder Conference on Agricultural Investment, Gender and Land in Africa
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS), the Future Agricultures Consortium, and the Land Policy Initiative (LPI) of the African Union, the African Development Bank and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, jointly organised a multi-stakeholder conference for the African Region "Multi-stakeholder Conference on Agricultural Investment, Gender and Land in Africa: Towards inclusive, equitable and socially responsible investment" in Cape Town, South Africa from 5 to 7 March 2014. The conference was co-sponsored and supported by IFAD, the Ford Foundation, Omidyar Network and the International Land Coalition.

The aim of the conference was to promote an open exchange of experiences and evidence-based knowledge on the implications of agricultural investments for rural livelihoods, gender relations, and social differentiation among a wide range of stakeholders, including government, private sector, civil society, rural organizations, academia, donors and development agencies representatives. The conference featured research findings by a range of institutions and networks, as well as experience from projects, investment sites and investment partnerships, with the purpose to critically review existing primary agriculture investment practices as well as relevant policy and institutional set-ups in order to identify good practices, promising strategies, approaches and policy measures that can be promoted and adapted to national contexts to foster inclusive, equitable and socially responsible agriculture investment that respect the rights of local communities and promote sustainable economic growth within a framework of social and gender equality.

Research into gender and land-based investments
Women are both likely to be affected differently to men by large-scale land deals and disproportionately more likely to be negatively affected than men because they are generally vulnerable as a group. As pointed out by Daley (2011), this vulnerability is four-fold. First, it arises through the constraints and systemic discrimination that women generally face in relation to their access to, ownership of, and control of land, including the level of legal protection of their land rights. Second, women’s vulnerability arises through the systemic discrimination they generally face in sociocultural and political relations, most particularly in relation to their role in decision-making, and their ability to exercise freely both “voice” and “choice” in decisions that affect their lives and livelihoods. Third, women’s vulnerability also arises through the more general state of their relative (cash) income poverty vis-à-vis men. It is not always easy to separate out women’s relative income poverty from the discrimination they face in relation both to productive resources and to participation in decision-making, both of which contribute to poverty, but it is nonetheless a different dimension of their vulnerability. Fourth, and not least, it arises through women’s general physical vulnerability vis-à-vis men, as manifested in direct gender-based and sexual violence against women.

Outgrower schemes, where farmers cultivate their own or leased land, are often deemed more ‘inclusive’ than plantation models. In practice, they are often accessed more by men than women, but this doesn’t have to be the case, as highlighted by IIED (2013). Research commissioned by FAO and IIED studied two ‘broadly inclusive’ commercial ventures (in Ghana and Zambia) that include outgrower schemes. The studies confirm that close attention is needed to ensure women get a fair deal from agricultural investments. They show that although outcomes for women cannot be generalised, women do not always get a fair deal; that broadly ‘inclusive’ investments do not automatically benefit women; and that wage labour may be more appealing to some women than is usually acknowledged.

According to Chan (2010), women are less likely to benefit from companies’ smallholder sourcing and support programs than men, as the following trends show: fewer women are members of company contract farming schemes than men; many companies source from established producer groups, yet women are typically underrepresented in both the membership and governance of these groups; on male-owned farms, female family members do much of the work, yet receive little of the income from crop sales and have little say in how that income is spent; and, women are much less likely than men to benefit from technical training and extension programs. Clearly, there are social and moral reasons for seeking to redress these imbalances. However, several leading global food companies have started to recognize that improving opportunities for women in smallholder-based supply chains would not only help achieve social responsibility aims; it could also deliver commercial benefits by improving productivity, quality, and future viability of key smallholder crops.

IFAD experiences
Different types of land-based investments in different contexts, however, result in a variety of gender-differentiated outcomes. The IFAD- supported Vegetable Oil Development Project was presented and this case shows that women can benefit from these deals, but that proactive measures are needed to improve the opportunities for women in smallholder-based supply chains. VODP started with a thorough gender analysis at the design stage to identify the particular needs and challenges of women. Based on this assessment, specific measures were taken to increase their opportunities for improved participation. Among these, the most important have been:

  • increasing and strengthening women’s access to land; 
  • increasing women’s membership and participation in smallholder sourcing schemes; 
  • ensuring women benefit from technical training, extension services and production inputs; and, 
  • introducing the household mentoring approach in order to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment at household level. 
Other IFAD experiences were also presented: Malibiocarburant in Mali, Lower Usuthu Smallholder Irrigation Project in Swaziland and the Participatory Smallholder Agriculture and Artisanal Fisheries Development Programme in São Tomé & Principe.

We would like encourage you to share your ideas and experiences so we can continue raising awareness of the important role played by women in smallholder-based supply chains, of the constraints they face, and of the potential commercial benefits to be gained from removing these constraints.

When playing helps building resilience in Mali

By Ilaria Firmian

I have just returned from the Mali Enhancing Agricultural Productivity/Adaptation for Smallholder Agriculture (PAPAM/ASAP) project. It was  officially launched last Thursday March 20th in Bamako, in the presence of the Minister of Environment and the Minister of Livestock and Fisheries.

There was a formal launch following three days of intense technical workshop involving the newly recruited project team that will be deployed in the Bamako, Sikasso and Kayes regions; all key partners - Agence de l’Environnement et du Développement Durable (AEDD), Mali Météo, Association des Agronomes et Vétérinaires Sans Frontières (AVSF), Système d’Information Forestière (SIFOR) - and an IFAD support team from West and Central Africa and Environment and Climate Divisions were present.

Figure 1 - Mali PAPAM/ASAP Project - Ilaria Firmian
For the first time in an ASAP inception workshop, the Red Cross Climate Centre facilitated the use of climate games. The games helped the project team in understanding and taking ownership of the project’s goals and objectives.

The game “paying for predictions” was adapted to suit the Mali PAPAM/ASAP design concept. Each participant represented a commune and sat with 5 others. Each table of 5 represented a region, for a total of 5 regions. Participants had to cope with the cumulative effects of the rains in the entire region (whose intensity from 1 to 6 was determined by the roll of one green dice) and the local rain in each commune (determined by the roll of a white dice). They were also offered the opportunity to protect themselves both with disaster risk reduction actions such as tree planting, and with access to climate information. Both these actions will be implemented in the PAPAM/ASAP project.
Figure 2 - Mali PAPAM/ASAP Project - Ilaria Firmian
During the political segment, the different introductory speeches, given from the perspective of Farmers’ Organizations or of the Minister of Environment, have been focusing on the harshness of climate impacts in Mali, that is suffering more and more from severe droughts coupled with heavy rains.

IFAD representative's opening speech illustrated the scaling up character of the ASAP project, which draws on IFAD experiences in Mali with participatory approaches, such as participatory mapping and vulnerability assessment,  for the development of local plans. Within ASAP these approaches will be adopted at ecosystem level, to ensure that local development actions are coherent and build an effective resilience.
Figure 3 - Mali PAPAM/ASAP Project - Ilaria Firmian
A simplified version of the climate game played during the technical segment was adopted for the political launch. Representatives from ministries, NGOs, CSOs and IFAD project coordinators were put in the shoes of decision-makers having to take investment decisions for a 10 year time period (“Decisions for the decade” game), and consequently allocating their own budget (10 beans each) against three lines: "regular" development, protection against drought, protection against flood.

Although this was clearly a simplified representation of the reality, participants tended to use their own reality as a reference, for example, referring to the Malian average of a drought every four years, investments were mostly going in that drought protection. Many also commented that in the game it was impossible to avoid humanitarian crisis and there was a great debate around getting the sense of how much it is possible to escape crisis in reality.

The project team also suggested that the game’s application in the actual project work with local communities could be explored.

The climate games will soon be used in other countries during ASAP inception workshops as a serious but fun way to think concretely about the meaning of resilience

lam van nhien web2
Lam Van Nhien extending a net to harvest shrimp from his aquaculture pond ©IFAD/C.Neglia

On a small inlet only five hundred metres from the coast, Lam Van Nhien points towards a hedge of mangroves. He explains they form a natural barrier, offering at least some protection against sea water that can enter his shrimp pond.

Nhien lives on about 0.5 hectares in Bao Thuan commune with his wife Thai Ngoc Diem. In their pond they raise freshwater shrimp, crab and catfish. They also grow watermelons in the sandy soil. The couple have two children who live with their grandparents at this time of year, when not even a cloudlet forms in the sky.

We visit under a thatched roof in the morning, drinking tea together. The Chairman of the commune is there, along with an officer from the Adaptation in the Mekong Delta (AMD) project. They tell us a familiar story. During the rainy months, sea levels rise and bridge the narrow stretch of land separating us from the beach. If too much sea water enters their pond it can wipe out all of the aquaculture. 

The government has tried to help by constructing a sea dyke and planting rows of pine trees as the last lines of defence. Nhien brings us out to the beach to show us. What we see are overturned trees lying in the surf, their gnarled roots ripped from the ground due to coastal erosion.

During the dry season, the situation is just as precarious. This is what we witness first-hand. There isn’t enough water for Nhien and Diem’s household consumption or to irrigate the watermelons. Scarcity impinges on their daily existence, and they’re forced to conserve wherever they can.

In the afternoon, Diem demonstrates how she tends to the watermelon field. The plants are covered to retain moisture, and she only waters them at the roots. Each day she labours under the intense sun, trimming away at excess stems so that eventually the fruit will grow ripe.

Every two days a boat arrives to the property via a canal and fills two concrete cisterns with freshwater. This is what they depend on to get them through the times of greatest scarcity. Diem says that prices for water in Bao Thuan commune are more than ten times what they are in urban areas.

To face some of these challenges, the AMD project is investing in pro-poor adaptation investments throughout Ben Tre and Tra Vinh provinces, where there are many similarly affected coastal communities.

The project offers interventions such as building salinity barriers and other small infrastructure to safeguard farmers’ fields and aquaculture ponds, promotes salinity monitoring and forecasting to ensure farmers have reliable information on the salinity content of their waterways; and will provide best management practices so that farmers can better protect shrimp larvae, giving their crop the best chance for success. 

The issue of water stress is one of the most critical in this context. Here the project will work to upgrade canal systems for improved water storage, and engender rainwater collection and water-saving irrigation techniques.

The household we visited displayed a real demand for the types of adaptation investments supported by IFAD. Their situation made clear that relying wholly on expensive sea dykes is not enough to protect production, and that more pragmatic approaches can help improve farmers’ knowledge and practices. There are encouraging signs that the AMD project will be effective in this role, when it soon begins its work in earnest. My hope is that small farmers on Vietnam’s sea border will be able to benefit from much needed investment before sea level rise causes more economic loss and displacement. 

IFAD Procurement Training, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Posted by Wairimu Mburathi Tuesday, March 18, 2014 0 comments

Project staff spend a great deal of their efforts to deliver procured inputs and technologies on time, racing against approaching weather season. It is not an easy task, as they have to navigate through country procurement rules and regulations, and adhere to IFAD processes and standards. They strive to ensure that tendering processes are undertaken in an open manner, and agreed contracts clearly oblige companies to deliver quality services and goods on time.

Genet Mengistu makes a presentation on lessons learned during
the procurement training
From 12th - 14th March 2014, project staff from Ethiopia and South Sudan participated in a procurement training, which covered core procurement principles to ensure that processes are transparent, well justified and maintain the best value for money. The training aimed to strengthen staff member’s ability to adequately evaluate proposals and plan for tendering processes. Financial management aspects were also discussed and budgeting best practices exchanged. Useful tips and check lists were shared to strengthen budget planning.

As project members infrequently have a chance to congregate, a monitoring evaluation session on IFAD Results and Impact Managing System annual reporting requirements, and an introduction to knowledge management with an emphasis on integrating knowledge sharing and learning activities into annual work plan project budgets, were also held.

Robson Mutandi, Country Director and Representative to Ethiopia and South Sudan encouraged participants to share experiences from their countries, and encouraged feedback to IFAD on ongoing procurement processes. He emphasized that everyone, including IFAD staff were there to learn and improve current financial management systems.

The training went beyond the classroom and project staff had a chance to mingle and enjoy a light moment during an evening cocktail on the second day of the training. The team was pleasantly graced by the bold voluminous voice of Kisi Masahiro, the procurement specialist conducting the workshop. He entertained the crowd with some first class opera.

Workshop participants
Mr. Dejene Abesha, from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development Planning & Programming Directorate, closed the training. He noted that improving the capacity of project staff to undertake financial management and due procurement processes is of paramount importance. He also appreciated that the training was held at the country level providing an opportunity to have a tailor made training programme suitable to IFAD project staff needs.

Scaling up IFAD’s support for land tenure security #ifadgsm

Posted by Roxanna Samii Friday, March 7, 2014 0 comments

By Harold Liversage, regional land advisor, and Steven Jonckheere, land and natural resources associate for IFAD in East and Southern Africa.

During the 2014 Global Staff Meeting, IFAD and the Secretariat of the International Land Coalition (ILC) organised a thematic session on lessons, challenges and opportunities for IFAD to scale up its support for land tenure security and governance. The session is part of an on-going consultation to develop a strategic approach on how scaling up can be achieved in this thematic area and was moderated by Ed Heinemann (Policy Dialogue Adviser). Madiodio Niasse (Director of the ILC secretariat) gave an overview of the global context and Harold Liversage (Regional Land Adviser) focused on the important of land tenure security for IFAD and the challenges  and opportunities it faces for scaling up. Two colleagues from IFAD country offices shared their experiences, namely Pontian Muhwezi (Country Programme Officer for Uganda) and Stefania Dina (Country Programme Manager for Laos). The session was attended by a variety of people from various divisions (e.g. five regional divisions, Environment and Climate Change Division, Policy and Technical Advisory Division, Strategy and Knowledge Department, Partnership and Resource Mobilisation Office), including a significant number of colleagues from IFAD country offices.

Global context

Developing countries throughout the world are currently experiencing unprecedented pressures on land and natural resources; a host of factors has prompted sharp increases in demand for land, water, grassland and forested areas in developing and emerging countries. These drivers, combined with climate change and population growth, have led to increasing investments and speculation in agricultural and forestlands. While the data seems to indicate that millions of hectares of land in developing countries are being newly leased or sold, an accurate picture regarding scale and impact has been difficult to obtain, due to a widespread lack of transparency involved in such transactions.

Most national land policy reforms undertaken in the last decade recognize the legitimacy of customary land rights. Gender equality is also now high on the policy agenda. In addition to the increasing recognition of land tenure security, there are a number of global and regional frameworks that seek to provide high‐level guidance to the nature and content of land policy processes and tenure security initiatives. The scaling up of tenure security is a key concern for these institutional and policy responses.

IFAD and land tenure security

IFAD uses various tools and approaches to strengthen poor rural people’s access and tenure and their ability to better manage land and natural resources, individually and collectively. These include: recognizing and documenting group rights to rangelands and grazing lands, forests and artisanal fishing waters; recognizing and documenting smallholder farmers’ land and water rights in irrigation schemes; strengthening women’s secure access to land; using geographic information systems to map land and natural resource rights, use and management; identifying best practices in securing these rights through business partnerships between smallholder farmers and investors. The tools and approaches are incorporated in broader rural development programmes.

IFAD’s partners in this endeavour include governments, civil society organizations, development institutions and other United Nations agencies, particularly the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). IFAD is also a founding member of the International Land Coalition and hosts its secretariat. In 2008, IFAD’s Executive Board endorsed a new policy on access to land and tenure security, underscoring the importance of land issues to the organization.

IFAD has an important role to play in scaling up support for land tenure security and governance. This will be done by documenting and sharing its experiences, piloting new approaches, engaging in evidence-based policy dialogue and forging partnerships.

Country experiences

In Laos, IFAD has been supporting activities to secure the land and natural resource rights of its target groups in its projects and programmes. Given the gaps that existed in the legal framework, the country team decided to engage in the revision of the land policy to ensure that the rights of IFAD’s target groups are secured. The revision of the policy is still on-going, but seems to be going in the right direction. This has been possible through the informal networks that the country team has set up, the role it plays in the national sector working group and the champions that are present at high level. In the District Livelihoods Support Programme in Uganda, IFAD has been successfully piloting the issuing of Certificates of Customary Occupancy to poorer segments of the community and strengthening the capacities of district land offices. The positive experience will now be replicated by the Government in other parts of the country.

Successful tools and approaches to strengthen poor rural people’s access and tenure and their ability to better manage land and natural resources can also be found in other countries. While in Nepal, IFAD has been supporting the issuance of leasehold forest titles to the poorest segments of the community, in Mozambique IFAD has contributed to the development of national guidelines on community-investor partnerships. Generally, IFAD interventions almost always have an impact on the value of land. In addition, the rural-urban nexus brings new land issues into play. However, often land issues are difficult to tackle given political sensitivities and it might be more challenging to secure customary rights. It is also important to take regional differences into consideration, while looking for entry points for IFAD to engage on these issues.

Many thanks to everybody who participated and we look forward to working with you on the development of an IFAD approach for scaling up support for land tenure security.

Seed Security = Food Security

Posted by RimaAlcadi Thursday, March 6, 2014 0 comments

by Rima Alcadi
Picture by Shepherd Tozvireva / Oxfam Novib
In Zimbabwe, the IFAD-funded Oxfam Novib programme called “Scaling Up Peoples' Biodiversity Management for Food Security” is working in the low rainfall and poverty stricken districts of Tsholotsho, Uzumba Maramba Pfungwe (UMP), Goromonzi and Chiredzi. The programme is reaching 5,800 households, of which 60% are women. The farmers surveyed in Zimbabwe are mainly subsistence farmers who grow primarily maize (on holdings of 0.4 to 0.8 hectares), with an additional smaller area of land (below 0.4 ha), for other crops such as sorghum, pearl millet, groundnuts, cowpeas, soybeans and Bambara groundnuts.

In all these districts, farmers report that unpredictable dry spells are more common than before, have become longer and more severe. Farmers in Zimbabwe also experienced persistent droughts, which they had never experienced before, especially in Chiredzi and Tsholotsho districts. They also noted a marked increase in the number of pests and diseases. Farmers indicated that they are concerned about changes in both the amount and the distribution of rainfall. With regard to rainfall distribution, farmers reported that rains are starting later and ending before, with intermittent dry spells in between. Temperatures are also changing. Farmers perceive these developments as a strong indication of climate change. With the rudimentary tools available to them, farmers have been recording rainfall, temperature, wind and sun – sometimes even mapping these with activities performed. Farmers recognise that they require support to adapt to these changes.

As a result of these changes in climate, maize yields are diminishing, so farmers are keen to increase crop diversity on-farm and supplement maize with traditional crops, that are more drought tolerant and have shorter growing seasons. Indeed, smallholder farmers have demonstrated strong interest in the advanced lines of sorghum and pearl millets which were introduced by the programme. For example, farmers in Goromonzi plant maize, ground nut, and beans. The rainfall amount and distribution is poor, and is affecting their harvest. They noted that 10 to 15 years ago, there was more rainfall and longer growing seasons. In terms of rainfall distribution, plants germinate and then wilt as a result of dry spells, so farmers need to plant again.

This is why farmers like Ms Nyarai Nekate are ensuring greater crop diversity to enhance their resilience to climate change: she is planting seven corn varieties, seven bean varieties, seven Bambara groundnut varieties, nine cowpea varieties, and eight groundnut varieties. In terms of her preferred traits, she indicates she prefers short season varieties to long season varieties in order to manage exposure to risks and adapt to climate change. She takes care in managing her seed security as well as her food security, so she doesn't run out and doesn't need to buy seeds. It is like an insurance scheme not only with regard to food, but also with regard to seed – in case farmers cannot access seeds for the hybrid maize varieties, then they have pearl millet or other traditional varieties to plant.

So seed security is in fact a precursor to food security, and maintaining crop diversity on farm is a way to enhance both seed and food security.

Seeds for needs: Strengthening biodiversity on small farms

Posted by Christopher Neglia Wednesday, March 5, 2014 0 comments

At a seminar with researchers from Bioversity International and IFAD staff on Monday, it was clear that supporting biodiversity in crop systems is an issue that resonates with IFAD’s work. Indeed, greater diversity of crops improves community resilience and contributes towards better food and nutrition security. However, as was noted several times, biodiversity often lacks an explicit focus in our projects and programmes.  

Bioversity International has published that only 12 food crops, together with 5 animal species provide over 75% of the world’s food today. This tendency by governments to favour efficiency and productivity is endangering our heritage of agricultural and forest biodiversity that farmers have practiced for centuries.

In response, Bioversity International has come up with the seeds for needs approach– a rapid means of identifying crop varieties that are locally adapted to climate and market conditions. The process involves agricultural trials with different seed varieties and subsequent analysis of farmers’ preferences. By making use of CGIAR and institutional genebanks, Bioversity can customize seeds and distribute to community seedbanks based on farmer demand.  

But the remarkable aspect of this approach is that the seed system is entirely open source. This means that there are no individual rights holders for the varieties they distribute, instead, the seeds are openly accessible to everyone.

“The biodiversity that we’re offering is in the public domain, open access, and therefore easy to work with, multiply, and move around as farmers identify seeds as being important to their use,” said Stephan Weise, Deputy Director General of Bioversity.

From both a food security and a sustainability perspective, this seems to make a lot of sense. However, in the many cases where government subsidies incentivize staple crops such as rice, maize and wheat, Bioversity’s approach actually represents a vast departure from the norm.

I asked Weise how he reacts to such policy barriers: “Policies can change if you provide the right evidence and link it to an engagement effort that allows them to be adjusted.”

“If we do not show that there is value in doing something differently, then policies are not going to change,” he added.

The production of minor millets in India is a case in point. These are small-seeded crops grown for food and fodder, which are rich in vitamins and nutrients. Despite the crop’s neglected status, Bioversity provided extension services to improve planting techniques and helped select higher quality seed varieties.  As a result, Indian small millet growers increased their yields by 70% and their income by 30%, all in a rural setting that is dominated by rice production.

As an organization that energetically applies itself to the plight of smallholders, IFAD has a role to play in demonstrating that agricultural biodiversity is more resilient and sustainable than monocrop farms. Engaging with colleagues in Bioversity can certainly lead to opportunities for promoting different agroecological systems in our own project contexts.

The oxygen of frank debate: the 2014 portfolio under discussion

Posted by Hazel Bedford Monday, March 3, 2014 0 comments

Like everyone, I went to some great sessions at the Global Staff Meeting. I met new people and heard new ideas. I also learned that IFAD is pretty good at discussing its difficulties. One of the richest sessions I took part in was on opportunities and challenges for the 2014 project portfolio, which brought together portfolio advisers, CPMs, technical experts, and regional directors and economists.

Discussion focused on two key elements that significantly affect IFAD-supported projects:
  • The implementation environment – over which we have no influence
  • Project startups – where IFAD has more control, and which are key to improving project performance.
Many people participated in the discussion, so I’m going to simplify my task by not attributing any comments or ideas by name. If I’ve misrepresented anything or you want to own your ideas or add to them, please post a comment at the end. Also, the discussion was so rich that it’s only possible to touch on the highlights in a short blog – or at least what struck me as the highlights.

The implementation environment
A matrix identifying 4 different types of implementation environment in APR was presented as a basis for understanding that environment and taking decisions accordingly at design phase. It categorized countries according to the strength or weakness of their central and local governments, and the strength or weakness of their civil society, including CSOs and the private sector.

Click on image to view full size.

The implementation environment is something IFAD has little control over. In a nutshell: ‘we have certain things we can’t do anything about’. (And as in that well known prayer, it’s important to know the difference between the things we can change, and those we can’t.)

The discussion that followed brought home the fact that IFAD works in a kaleidoscopic range of different environments – not all of which fit neatly into 1 of the quadrants. And because country contexts are so widely different institutionally, it’s difficult to replicate what we learn in 1 country in another.

It was suggested that a third dimension be added to the quadrants of different implementation environments – policy space. Policy space was likened to “a little window that opens and closes” offering opportunities to improve impact and project performance. Policy space provides the opportunity for IFAD to make its projects relevant to policy-makers and this creates potential for scaling up.

Capacity was then thrown into the mix as the cross-cutting issue influencing the implementation environments – human and technical capacity.

It was argued that the quadrant model should be taken into account from the design stage. Because you can have an excellent idea for a project but if you choose the wrong institutional arrangements, you’ll be fighting for years.

There were also differing views about whether we should be working only through governments, with some participants arguing that this is the way to sustainably strengthen institutional capacity. The point was made that working through NGOs or other “contractors” may not be sustainable over the long-term.

Several people argued for more flexibility in project design so that project teams can learn by doing and adapt goals and objectives during implementation where there is a need. The case was made that because we now directly supervise nearly all of our projects, we are in a position to be more flexible.

Project management units were another issue where country differences were extreme. Some governments appoint government staff, others insist that we recruit from the private sector – meaning that we lose the expertise when the project closes. Sometimes government PMUs are managing scores of projects and it’s difficult to get their attention.

There was broad agreement that grant financing could be effectively used for capacity building in government institutions and outside.

Project start-ups: maintaining momentum
The session then focused on project start-ups and once again there was a wealth of different opinions and experiences. Some statistics show that the speed of project start-up is a determining factor in performance. Slow start-ups lose momentum and enthusiasm and you can’t get back lost time. The time lapse between project approval and entry into force – when projects have fulfilled conditions so they are able to disburse – ranges from 5 to 16 months. “That’s a lot of time wasted.”

The time between the first and second disbursement is also a significant statistic showing how well a project is progressing. In the weakest projects it can be close to three years.

It is also important for us to know how project managers and PMUs view our start-up procedures. Indeed, ESA is carrying out a survey to find out the leading causes of early implementation delays – asking questions like: Do we provide adequate support? Are start-up workshops adequately delivered? Is documentation clear? IFAD’s aim is to optimize support in the first 15 months of a project’s life span.

Comments from other participants suggested that delay in start-up is not always directly linked to weak performance further down the track. This was said to be the case in LAC, where start-up delays were marked, but not necessarily related to the quality of the project.

There was a plea for divisions to allocate more resources to improve project start-up. Delayed recruitment of staff was one example cited. Starting work with the project team in parallel with the design phase was one suggested solution.

One intervention went to the heart of many of the issues being discussed: it is regrettable that we are starting up and closing down in countries where we’ve been working for years, with higher transaction costs every time we do it and a multiplicity of PMUs. Should we favour the country programme approach to break this cycle? The way we work now is like repeatedly constructing the first floor in a building. In addition, PMUs drain the best staff from government ministries, effectively weakening the institutions we are meant to strengthen.

There was general agreement that it’s important to do a lot more during design, including finalizing project implementation manuals by building on what already exists. There was also a suggestion that specific funding should be identified for this work.

Having thoroughly taken on board the message that every country context is different, I then went to the SKD session and heard that the forces of globalization are influencing what happens in every country and that commonalities are emerging. But that’s another story …