Workshop Breathes Life Into Botswana’s Agricultural Services Support Project … as New Beginnings Beckon

Experiences from the IFAD-ESA Monitoring and Evaluation Workshop in Swaziland

Author: Tirelo Ditshipi - (with contributions from Francesco Rubino)

The Agricultural Services Support Project (ASSP) in Botswana, a five year project in the Department of Crop Production, the Ministry of Agricultural Development & Food Security was envisaged as model project to support existing government efforts towards improved food security and improving rural livelihoods.

As  its name suggests, the support aspect  is meant to fill existing gaps in programmes such as the Integrated Support Programme for Arable Agriculture Development (ISPAAD),  in addition to introducing new technologies and strengthening capacity building in the ministry’s structures.
To enhance these technologies, the project also provided equipment and assisted the implementers of the project  in performing their duties through the provision of transport  and office equipment.  
Additionally, through the institutional strengthening component, the project went a step  further by enhancing the ministry’s training capacity  on Monitoring & Evaluation and Knowledge Management & Learning,  helping to align the project’s mandate to that of the Ministry’s. 

While the project  made great strides in terms of capacity building, it emerged from the recent Sub-Regional Monitoring & Evaluation Workshop (May 16-19) in Manzini (Swaziland),  in which five countries participated, that Botswana has and could learn valuable lessons on what needs to be in place for the success of the project. The underlying factor  was that Monitoring & Evaluation is the backbone of the project and that it influences the outcome of an effective Knowledge Management &Learning system and that  these need to be established  during the initial phases of the project. Despite thee being just a few months until the project’s closure, following a one year extension, such lessons will prove to be quite useful in terms application to future projects. In this regard, ASSP will be a reference point in what needs to be done and in place to set up a Monitoring & Evaluation system and eventually influence the strengths of other areas of the project.

As Knowledge Management & Learning Officers we realized that more can be done on that area in the Sub-Region IFAD funded projects. Particularly that Knowledge Management is at times not fully explored, with the risk of being at times underplayed by a strict focus on communications. The main reason behind this gap is the difficulty most officers face in the establishment of Knowledge Management systems for their projects, as a result of the lack of capacity and understanding of what needs to be done to set up the systems. A difficulty that ASSP has faced in its project implementation, as well

One other key lessons for the ASSP project, as evidenced by presentations from participating countries was the importance of data collection as a way of building on stories to tell and share either positive or negative for future reference. Fortunately for the ASSP project, through the Division of Agricultural Information & Public Relations, in-house channels through both print and broadcast are available to tap into. It is through such channels that the conservation agriculture initiative and the use of Agricultural Service Centres (ASCs) for farmers’ access to services could be examples of sharing lessons and proving that lives have been transformed through such interventions.

In addition to having a good foundation on intersecting  areas such as Monitoring & Evaluation and Knowledge Management & Learning it is important that component drivers understand that there is a shared responsibility in making these work together.  An important lesson,therefore, is that technical experts in every project need to understand the importance of data collection, storage and sharing for optimal use and visibility of the project, a responsibility that has to be owned by all participants in a project to ensure its success. 

As a Knowledge Management and Communications specialist myself, it has become evident that I have to constantly remind my team of the importance of documenting their efforts in their respective areas for archiving and visibility of the project for improved impact.
Documentation and case studies are a reflection of a project’s success, or even failures, that are key in moving forward by assessing what can be done differently moving forward. In this regard, as Botswana prepares for a new project with new components and exploring different sectors, a good base needs to be established. As an immediate intervention, ASSP will archive all the information particularly on stories from the field and radio interviews on the project and its various components to showcase its impact.

A documentary on ASCs and their effectiveness in attempting to address inaccessibility of facilities for farmers by acting as one stop shops has already been conceptualized with the Broadcasting Unit in the Information Division.Three centers have already been visited and have provided  clips, with subsequent interviews planned.

Regarding the project’s beneficiaries of conservation agriculture, selected farmers and beneficiaries of the Waste Water Irrigation Scheme, profiles must be compiled for ease of reference in and traceability of the beneficiaries in the future.  Targeted messages on the interventions or technologies that ASSP utilized, including different techniques of conservation agriculture such as basin preparations or ripping have to be produced.  In addition, ASSPs regional collaborations should be strengthened with organizations like the African Conservation Tillage Network, for example, by starting to contribute to their monthly newsletter on conservation agriculture in the region.

In conclusion, the Monitoring & Evaluation sub-regional workshop has in many ways provided answers on how to “get it right” and continued collaboration with participating countries is key. ASSP took a keen interest in collaboration with groups that have made significant progress in Knowledge Management, such as, RLEEP in Malawi who have compiled their stories from the field and PROSUL in Mozambique whose project is similar to the one currently being designed for Botswana and the Wool and Mohair Promotion Project in Lesotho. ASSP will take advantage of the established social--What sap group: IFAD Monitoring & Evaluation - Southern Africa group, for sharing lessons which is already proving to be a useful platform.