Evaluation objectives, process, and partnerships
In 2009, the IFAD Independent Office of Evaluation (IOE) undertook a first evaluation of IFAD's country programme in Niger. This country programme evaluation (CPE), performed in accordance with IFAD's Evaluation Policy and the Evaluation Manual prepared by IOE, has the main objectives of evaluating the performance and impact of IFAD's operations in Niger and arriving at a series of conclusions and recommendations that can be used as input for the Fund's future country strategic programme. To attain these objectives, the evaluation examines the performance of three components of the partnership between the Government of Niger and IFAD, which reinforce each other mutually: the portfolio of projects and programmes, non-lending activities, and the two country strategic opportunities programmes (COSOPs) for Niger. The evaluation of the portfolio, which includes seven projects and programmes, covers the period from 1997 to 2009.
The evaluation was performed in four main stages: (i) preparation (review of the documents, preparatory mission, and self-evaluation); (ii) the main evaluation mission from 25 April to 23 May 2009 (including a study of the performance and impact of the Aguié Rural Development Project and the Project for the Promotion of Local Initiative for Development in Aguié); (iii) analysis of the information compiled and preparation of the present report (including several rounds of consultations on the draft report); and (iv) completion of the evaluation (draft agreement at completion point and signature of the agreement by the Government and IFAD). A core learning partnership was established including the Government, IFAD, and the main partners, to provide guidance and comments on the main outputs of the evaluation and to promote the use of its results and recommendations.
In accordance with IFAD's Evaluation Policy, this agreement at completion point was prepared with the assistance of the Office of Evaluation, by the West and Central Africa Division and the Government of Niger. This action-oriented document presents the main findings and recommendations of the evaluation and discusses ways of implementing the recommendations.
Main evaluation findings
Since 1980, IFAD has helped to finance eight projects and programmes in Niger, for a total cost of US$234.6 million. Out of this, 45 per cent was covered by IFAD loans and the remaining was cofinanced by the World Bank, the French Development Agency, the World Food Programme, the West African Development Bank, the United Nations Development Programme, and the Belgian Fund for Food Security. Consequently, over these ten years, IFAD has provided 8.5 per cent of all support to the rural and agricultural sectors in Niger.
IFAD's strategic objectives in Niger have been relevant with respect to the Government's and the Fund's policies and strategies, and also with respect to the needs of the rural poor, which were properly identified in the COSOPs. They bear mainly on securing and increasing food production through better natural resource management and developing rural social and economic infrastructure. In response to the weakness of public institutions at all levels, IFAD's strategy has been to build up the capacity of communities through their grass-roots organizations.
The 2004-2005 food crisis, caused by a combination of factors, led IFAD to introduce an important strategic objective into its most recent COSOP (2006) intended in the short term to mitigate the impact of the food crisis and in the longer term to reduce the vulnerability of the rural population through the diversification of incomes. To sustainably eliminate food insecurity, it is necessary to guarantee agricultural production through the sustainable use of natural resources, hand-in-hand with diversification of rural sources of income to reduce the uncertainties inherent in rain-fed farming.
Since the 2006 COSOP, IFAD has officially given geographic priority to the Maradi region, one of the poorest and most densely populated in the country, where the Fund has already built up considerable experience. This concentration of efforts and means in a single region is justified by the need to improve the effectiveness and impact of interventions and reduce the transaction costs associated with over-extension. It has also allowed the prepare the ground for stronger partnerships, particularly through the Maradi letter of understanding signed by the technical and financial partners to introduce joint programming in the Maradi region, and through cofinancing for the coordination mechanism between the Government and the partners in Maradi, which is not yet operational.
The evaluation of the impact on rural poverty indicates that the projects have made a significant contribution - albeit within a limited area - to improving household income and food security of rural families thanks to interventions in agricultural production, natural resource management, and the development of off-farm activities. This improvement is mainly due to the successful implementation of innovations in the area of managing natural production factors in crop and grazing operations. They have contributed locally to an increase in the productivity of crop and livestock farming. This involves assisted natural regeneration, rehabilitation of degraded land, community management of grazing land, and small-scale irrigation for market gardens. The portfolio has also had a modest impact on human capital development, especially in education and health; social capital, and empowerment, particularly for women; and rural institutions and policies. However, in many cases, these improvements continue to be vulnerable to external shocks.
These innovations are the result of a judicious combination of loans and technical-assistance grants from IFAD and a close-knit partnership between projects, research institutions, and beneficiary groups. The virtually spontaneous dissemination and sustainability of these interventions stems from their simplicity and, above all, from their clear utility and the high involvement of the local population and their organizations in their identification, planning, and implementation.
To ensure the sustainability of the results, the projects included exit strategies based, essentially, on the participation of grass-roots organizations and the strengthening of their capacity - two aspects that in themselves present very variable sustainability.
IFAD's participation in policy dialogue has been limited by its weak presence in the country, which has only become stronger in the last four or five years, basically through cofinanced projects and some technical-assistance grants. Pertinent issues have been addressed, such as the national microfinance strategy, regionalization of the rural development strategy, and the national cereal bank management strategy. IFAD's participation in the community action programme (CAP II) through IRDAR-RCI and in partnership with the World Bank indicates that the Fund is aware that coordination on basic institutional issues should be carried out in partnership with a player capable of engaging in dialogue with government leaders.
With regard to preparing a new COSOP for Niger, the CPE has made the following four strategic recommendations:
Recommendation 1. Focus the strategic priorities of IFAD's programme in Niger first on building institutional capacity and then on diversifying rural income, keeping the geographic focus on the Maradi region.
The next IFAD project financed through the 2010-2012 PBAS allocation should aim at diversifying sources of rural income, paying special attention to irrigated market gardening, livestock, and off-farm income-generating activities to reduce dependence on the traditional rain-fed production system which is in crisis and suffers from significant risks (drought, market fluctuations, etc.) The project should promote access by the rural poor to markets and the reinforcement of private services (suppliers of inputs, rural financial services, etc.) taking a cross-cutting approach based on partnerships.
It is recommended, at least for the four-year period covered by the ARRDI-ISC, that means and efforts continue to be focused on the Maradi region, which has been targeted since the 2006 COSOP. The next project, oriented to the diversification of income, should focus, at least initially, on the 56 communities covered by the ARRDI-ISC in order to develop stronger managerial capacity in the communes and the deconcentrated technical services.
Recommendation 2. In line with the Paris declaration on the harmonisation and alignment of development aid, accelerate the transfer to a programme approach being integrated in the rural development strategy of the Maradi region.
It is recommended that IFAD support the process of regionalization of the rural development strategy for Maradi, as the Government would like to see, and fully integrate IFAD financed interventions within the regional strategy, which will then constitute the programme which the Government would control.
The process of developing the new COSOP and, in particular all the analyses that will support it, should be used to provide the Government and the technical and financial partners operating in the region with a deeper understanding of local constraints and opportunities in rural development. The strategic guidelines and procedures for implementing IFAD's new COSOP should be defined jointly with the national and regional governments and the technical and financial partners active in the Maradi region.
The new COSOP should make provision for non-lending activities to assist the local partners (government and civil society) in preparing the rural development strategy for the Maradi region, and to support coordination of its implementation, and its monitoring and evaluation. The Maradi letter of understanding and the recently-created coordination mechanism between the Government and the technical and financial partners in the Maradi region should be re-examined in light of their contribution to implementing the regional rural development strategy.
Integration of IFAD's portfolio of non-lending activities with the regional rural development strategy for Maradi will reinforce the sense of ownership by the regional authorities and the communities benefiting from activities financed by IFAD. This will also help to develop complementarities and synergies within the activities financed by IFAD and also between them and those of the Government and other technical and financial partners. This kind of integration should also make it possible to better harmonize procedures between donors and public agencies with the aim to reduce the Government's transaction costs. Last, it should open up the possibility of reinforcing project monitoring and evaluation and incorporating this into the monitoring and evaluation system of the regional rural development strategy so that it can serve as an information tool about activities and help with coordination and decision making.
Recommendation 3. Continue to promote innovation and its scaling up in order to contribute to the diversification of the income of the rural poor.
The fields in which IFAD has built up some experience in Niger and for which it is necessary to find innovative solutions are primarily natural resource management, small-scale irrigation, access to land, access to markets, and strengthening the means of action of marginalized social groups, particularly women. Other pertinent fields undoubtedly merit greater attention, such as sedentary livestock raising and off-farm activities (processing of farm products, crafts, services, etc.).
IFAD and the Government should make full use of the experience of beneficiary-targeting approach with regard to the identification and promotion of innovations in the rural world without, however, neglecting to capitalize on innovations and extend them beyond the projects and the Maradi region.
To that end, it is essential for IFAD's new COSOP to develop a realistic strategy to promote the scaling up of innovations produced from interventions in the field, making full use of non-lending activities, being: (i) partnerships between communities, universities, and research institutions, and projects to engage in research and development and to identify local innovations, monitor their scaling up, and report regularly; (ii) knowledge management to ensure the capitalisation and dissemination of innovations by means that are appropriate for the different publics; and (iii) coordination to promote institutional ownership of innovations.
Recommendation 4. Adapt IFAD's operating model to Niger's particular context, given that the country faces virtually all the difficulties experienced by the poorest countries.
Given the wide differences in the capacity of public and private service providers in Niger in the technical and managerial fields, partners for project implementation should be chosen more selectively, based on their capacity. Moreover, adequate technical assistance should be provided destined to be phased out over time. Such assistance should concern technical fields in which capacity is not yet available locally, as well as the administrative and financial management of projects.
It is also necessary to seek simplicity in project objectives and activities, given the implementation capacity of the partners which should, however, gradually improve. Also, in view of the often unforeseeable nature of developments in Niger, sufficient flexibility should be built into the design of interventions so they can be adapted in function of how the situation evolves. The response by the PPILDA to the 2004-2005 food crisis is a good example of the requisite flexibility.
Supervision and implementation support to the activities financed by IFAD should be further strengthened with enhanced participation by IFAD, the Government, and the other partners involved. The length and frequency of supervisory missions should be increased and lending agencies with international standing should be called upon to provide regular technical assistance commensurate with needs.