Interim evaluation

With an estimated GNP per capita of just USD 100, Ethiopia is one of the poorest countries in the world - about one third of the population live in absolute poverty. Ninety per cent of the population, which was 60 million in 1995, live in the rural areas, where subsistence agriculture is the main economic activity. Because of higher rainfall and healthier climatic conditions in the highlands (above 1500 m asl), nearly 90% of the population choose to live there. The Special Country Programme area lies in the crescent shaped Ethiopian highlands east of the rift valley, and was defined as being between the 400 and 800 mm isohyets. The area consists of both extensive plains and also a dissected ridge section stretching to the Somali border; temperatures and rainfall vary with altitude and geographic location, with the higher massif receiving over 1,000 mm of rainfall. The main crops are wheat, barley and maize, plus various pulses, fruits and vegetables, but yields at the time of project design were generally low. About 10,000 ha in the area was estimated as being in farmer-developed small-scale irrigation schemes (SSIs), which usually consist of simple diversion structures, earth canals and poorly or completely unlevelled fields, resulting in very low water use efficiencies. Many rural areas have no roads at all, and the transport of agricultural produce relies on animal transport over mountain trails.

Project design and objectives

Women on their way to a water spring near Fedis, about 20 km from Harrar In 1984, following an extensive and prolonged period of drought, IFAD prepared the Rehabilitation Programme for Drought Affected Areas, which was designed to provide immediate relief in the form of seeds, tools, etc. and to rehabilitate drinking water and primary health care facilities. This was a three year (USD 19.4 mn) programme financed with the BSF. In addition to the major components, there were also small components forsoil and water conservation andsmall-scale irrigation schemes; during appraisal of the Rehabilitation Programme IFAD agreed to extend these activities in a new programme, to be financed under SPA.

Target group

The programme’s target group consisted of about 25,000 farming families in drought prone areas who were expected to benefit from the six-year development and rehabilitation of 6,100 ha of SSIs, and a further 300,000 farm families who would ultimately benefit from the soil conservation measures. The creation of small vegetable gardens and the funding of income-generating activities would also bring benefits to about four hundred women. In a normal rainfall year, it was estimated that incomes from farm and off-farm sources amounted to about USD 65 per capita, hence it was assumed that most highland farmers were living in absolute poverty.

Objectives and components

The main objective of the Small Scale Irrigation programme was to achieve increases in crop production and hence to improve food security in drought prone areas, with the intention of providing a minimum food supply in deficit years and a marketable surplus in more normal years. The Conservation and Agricultural Support (CAS) programme addressed the problems of land degradation in the highlands, with the specific aims of fully involving the farming communities in the design, construction and maintenance of conservation schemes, and the promotion of activities which would be of demonstrable long term benefit to the participants. Each programme component consisted of a number of related sub-components; total base costs were estimated at USD 29.5 mn, to which contingencies added a further USD 10.7 mn. In summary the base costs covered:

Small Scale Irrigation Prog. (national support, zonal support, agricultural support, scheme investments) USD 20.1 mn (68%)
Conservation and Agricultural Support Prog. (conservation planning, trials, ag. extension, bund stabilisation, women’s support) USD 8.3 mn (28%)
M & E USD 1.1 mn (4%)

Under the SSI programme there were four sub-components for: (i)National Support, which concerned the strengthening of the Irrigation Development Department (IDD) in the MOA to enable it to prepare a national strategy and policy to provide the framework within which the programmes could be implemented, and was also to facilitate the preparation of criteria for scheme selection (a total of 5 years of TA, plus equipment and vehicles, additional staff and training was included in this package); (ii)Zonal Support, the zonal offices of the MOA/IDD would be upgraded to enable them to actually implement programme activities, this would include buildings, construction equipment, vehicles etc.; (iii)Agricultural Support, would be provided to enhance the capabilities of MOA in irrigated agriculture, this would involve training for the extension agents and research at the Soil and Water Management Research Centre; (iv)Scheme Investments, would fund the rehabilitation and also construction of SSIs ranging from a few hectares to a maximum of 200 ha, by providing for construction materials, operation of construction equipment, skilled labour etc.- unskilled labour would be provided by the beneficiaries. Under the construction programme the requirements for roads would be estimated and construction undertaken by unskilled labour on the basis of food-for-work, financed by WFP.

The CAS programme would provide: (i)National Support for Conservation Planning, in the Community Forest and Soil Conservation Development Department (CFSCDD) to enable it to prepare a National strategy, to become the centre for conservation planning and to co-ordinate procedures with other government departments and with donors; (ii)Zonal Support/Conservation Trials, six trials sites of 15-20 ha each were to be identified, and 30 on-farm demonstration trials of about 5 ha each were to be established. Under this heading,Agricultural Extension would be provided, closely linked to the trials in order to develop extension messages and ensure that farmers were fully aware of the potential of the conservation activities,Bund Stabilisation, was to be encouraged by planting suitable cover and binding crops, in the first instance a number of nurseries were to be established andRural Women’s Development Support would be included, aimed at promoting the establishment of vegetable gardens and creating a development fund which could be used by women for small-scale income-generating activities.

Monitoring & Evaluation was to be undertaken by the existing units in the MOA and the Agricultural and Industrial Development Bank (AIDB), but both would be assisted by the programme, including the provision of office equipment, vehicles, training, TA and incremental operating costs.

Expected effects and assumptions

It was estimated at appraisal that 2,750 ha would be rehabilitated and a further 3,350 ha would be developed in new irrigation schemes; at full development (12 years) yield levels under irrigation were expected to have doubled. Agricultural extension advice would cover the whole farming area, i.e. including rainfed crops; conservation activities were anticipated to gradually improve practices and production levels, and yields were anticipated to rise by 20% in the rainfed areas over the six year programme period. These increases should allow income levels to rise to between USD 109-167 per capita. One aspect of the conservation programme, bund protection, was expected to affect between 50-100,000 families, covering 9,500 ha; the treatment would reduce maintenance requirements on bunds and increase the fodder available for livestock. The support at national level was expected to produce consistent policies with respect to irrigation and conservation activities.

The programme contained a number of assumptions, these were: (i) that the main benefit from the irrigation programme would be increased cereal production; (ii) that a high priority would be given to soil conservation activities by the government; (iii) that national policies on irrigation or conservation would be widely disseminated and practised; and (iv) that farmers would accept and adopt maintenance activities for the irrigation facilities provided.


The multi-disciplinary interim evaluation mission visited Ethiopia in November 1995. There was no impact data available to the mission, but farmer interviews were held whenever a site was visited, as well as meetings with women’s groups and water user associations (this resulted in contacts with about 50 beneficiaries). Discussions were also held with government Departments and agencies, programme officers and other donors, and a wide selection of documents made available to the mission was reviewed.

Implementation context

In 1990/91, security in the programme area deteriorated and implementation was adversely affected by the events leading up to the violent change of government in 1991, by the administrative hiatus that immediately followed those events, and by subsequent decentralisation and associated restructuring that has occurred with irregular frequency. From the beginning of the project, co-ordination was merged into the complex system of committees (national, regional, zonal, and programme) that was trying to manage agricultural development in Ethiopia. Consequently, in the programme’s opening years, when lines of communication were being established between the implementing bodies (i.e. zonal offices of central government departments) and the centre, few programme activities were begun.

In 1992, the transitional government introduced decentralisation, in which many of the activities of central government were transferred to new ethnic regions and urban councils. Many central government staff working on the programme were transferred to regions and ceased to be involved in programme implementation, the system of central co-ordinating committees collapsed, and programme implementation became the responsibility of two of the new regional offices, two urban councils and appropriate subordinate zonal offices. Programme assets, once held centrally, were divided between regions and zones, and in some cases lost to the programme altogether. Restructuring by central government resulted in the separation of the regional and zonal departments dealing with irrigation and agriculture, and occasionally that separation was manifested as mutual hostility between the departments and non-co-operation in programme activities. In a later attempt to revive flagging agricultural activity, the government allowed the unpopular peasant collective farms (producer co-operatives) to collapse/, which had severe implications for implementation. By 1991/92, the fifth year of operations, all aspects of the programme were seriously behind schedule. However, activities were then restarted in earnest, the irrigation and supplementary conservation targets were reduced, and the programme was extended for a further two years, to December 1995.

Project achievements

All significant achievements in the programme’s two main components trace their start to either 1992 or 1993. That applies particularly to staff foreign training, when two thirds of the programme’s USD 1.4 million budget was expended. However, it was to be of little avail to programme performance; about three quarters of the 35 staff who attained higher degrees abroad had left the service of the programme, and sometimes of government, by December 1995.

By July 1995, eight years after the loan became operational, and after two extensions, loan and grant disbursements amounted to USD 13 million (38.5%). About 1,300 ha of incremental irrigation had been established (which, with an existing 200 ha, meant there were 1,500 ha of small-scale irrigation schemes), but other than trial and demonstration sites, none of the mountain areas subject to erosion had benefited from supplementary soil-conservation techniques. About 5 000 farm families had benefited from the irrigation schemes, and over 300 women had established gardens. Very few women had benefited from assistance with income-generating activities.

The absence of a government policy on SSIs means that there were no clear guidelines on either cost recovery from beneficiaries, or the necessary extent of participation and commitment by those beneficiaries. Either before or on completion of their scheme, beneficiaries are asked, through their water users’ association, to agree to contribute towards capital and operation and maintenance costs. Because of their vagueness and open-endedness, these agreements are unenforceable, and rarely result in beneficiaries making any contribution towards scheme costs. Of the 25 schemes completed at the time of the IE, one has started making token cost recovery payments (although such payments are already in arrears). These are sufficient to cover about one fourth of normal operation and maintenance costs, but make no contribution at all to capital costs. The positive achievements of small-scale irrigation are at risk in the medium- to long-term because of the absence of a clear workable government policy on cost-recovery and responsibility for scheme operation and maintenance.

Although scheme design has usually been good, the procedure for scheme selection left much to be desired. Notwithstanding the agreement at appraisal that government would prepare a definitive set of scheme-selection criteria, and notwithstanding the presence of a suggested set of criteria in the appraisal report, such criteria were never formally completed by government. The consequence is that at least two completed schemes are not in drought-prone areas, some schemes have ignored the rights of down-stream water users and other schemes have failed to make provision for compensation of lost land (to canals, headworks, etc.), or for re-allocation of land (when farmers give up land in the command area to increase the number of beneficiaries). None of the schemes is designed to prevent infestation by bilharzia-carrying snails, and the investment costs of some schemes were so high, that they were not economically justified.

Technical Assistance was supplied to the irrigation departments in Addis and in the Zonal offices, however, because of the political circumstances in Ethiopia, the TA in the Zonal offices could not function effectively or be widely deployed. The TA cost USD 3.7 mn, or enough to construct a further 1,300 ha of new irrigation schemes. It would probably have been wiser to have postponed the technical assistance to a period when zonal irrigation departments were more active, i.e. from 1993. This issue, and the question of scheme selection generally, were matters on which the IDA supervision missions could have been expected to provide some comment, but they did not appear to rate them as important.

Although three conservation-based agronomic trial sites were established, one was reduced in size (to 3 ha) and is ineffective. Bund stabilisation and crop production trials were installed on the two operating sites for the first time during 1994/95, and yield data were collected from one of these sites. A creditable 20 (out of 30 planned) on-farm demonstration trial sites have been set up in the programme area, while only 12 (out of 100 planned) farmer demonstration plots are in place. Soil conservation activities did not benefit from TA, because the budget was never restored after 1991, and specialised staff needed to manage the sites were never recruited. Vehicles have been in short supply, extension training materials have not been forthcoming, and funds have never been available when required. Consequently, although the zonal extension service has used the agronomic and demonstration trial sites for their own training purposes, it has been unable to formulate any conservation-based agronomy messages for farmers. This may account for the absence of bund stabilisation measures anywhere in the target area.

Soil Conservation and Agricultural Support. The bunds in Harerge are constructed of rock and soil, and unless they are protected by vegetation, they will be costly to maintain, and they will not be fully effective in abating soil erosion. By rehabilitating 12 ha of existing grass/legume-seed nurseries, the programme acquired a resource that was theoretically capable of supplying all the programme’s seed requirements. Unfortunately, the administrative difficulties of the programme’s opening years, and the violent disturbances of the middle years meant that only 10% of annual seed requirements were produced. At the time of the first programme extension in 1992, the target of 9,500 ha of bund stabilisation was reduced to 1,800 ha, with a proportionately much lower seed requirement, but so far, even this has not been achieved. However, by late 1995, the nurseries were planted near to capacity and showed good potential for fulfilling the revised seed requirements.

Agricultural support features of the programme have been positive. Irrigation agronomic trials have been successfully established on nine sites for at least one year, and promising results from those trials have been tested for a further year. Farmer training appeared to have kept pace with the rate of irrigation site completion. Despite some shortages of staff, the extension service has successfully operated a modified training and visit system, and has achieved extension worker:farmer ratios of around 1:1,300 or better. Crop production on the newly completed irrigated schemes concentrates on annual vegetable crops and perennial crops rather than grain. All schemes faced limited markets for their vegetables and downward pressure on crop prices was already apparent. Vegetable yields were lower than anticipated at programme appraisal, but provided cropping intensities of more than 518 are achieved, irrigated vegetable production is still profitable. Seed shortages, especially of biennial crops, were reportedly one of the greatest production constraints.

Women’s Development. The successful creation by the programme of over 300 women’s gardens (between 200 m² and 600 m² each) has not only improved family nutrition in East and West Harerge, but has increased women’s income too. However, nocredit has been provided either for women’s income-generating activities or for farmers to fund their own irrigation development. Crop marketability is being affected by poor access; no roads have been constructed under the programme’s USD 1 mn food-for-work budget.

Effectiveness of the M & E system.

A Project Coordination and Monitoring Department was established in the MOA, with a Division in charge of M&E; 12 man-months of TA were provided for the design of the M&E system and specific performance indicators were identified and a logical framework prepared. In 1991 all activities stopped and the M&E Division was included in the general restructuring which later took place, but now the carefully constructed functions could no longer apply because they were designed for a centralised system and not the regional system that was established. When the M&E system was functioning as designed the zonal officers collected a considerable amount of detailed information and produced comparisons of progress against targets. No evaluations were undertaken, supposedly because in the early years of the programme there were no impacts, but zonal staff also did not consider that evaluations were part of their duties.

Effects assessment and sustainability

By the time the programme ends in December 1996, total expenditure is likely to be USD 16 million of which USD 13.8 million will have been expended on small-scale irrigation activities (including institutional strengthening and capacity-building), and USD 1.8 million on supplementary soil-conservation and women’s activities. About 2,500 ha of small-scale irrigation will have been completed, to benefit about 8 000 farm families. Incremental irrigated crop production is expected to have an annual value that stabilises at USD 1.9 million, compared to an anticipated USD 4.4 million at programme appraisal.

Up to December 1995, operation and maintenance costs of completed irrigation schemes were being paid from programme funds. It is highly improbable that regional government can take on these costs when the programme ends, and it is apparent in most cases that beneficiaries are unaware of the impending responsibility. Without clear commitments that someone (beneficiaries and/or government) will pay operation and maintenance costs and major renewal costs when necessary, none of the schemes completed under the programme is sustainable. In addition, on some of the schemes there are signs of discord between the upstream and downstream water users, and between those who have "lost" or gained from the development, i.e. have not been adequately compensated for land lost to canals, headworks etc. Also, without a proper cost recovery scheme that meets at least some of the capital costs, then the development programme cannot continue without donor support.

Farmer-participation in small-scale irrigation design and construction has been nominal only, and has been inhibited by farmers’ reservations about the democratic legitimacy of imposed institutions such as Peasant Associations (government’s smallest unit of administration) and Service Cooperatives. Even water users’ associations have usually been formed only at government urging. True beneficiary participation therefore will not be a reality until democratic farmer-initiated organisations are established. Farmers’ and women’s reluctance to form cooperatives is generally attributed to the stigma of coercion and oppression they acquired during the Marxist-Leninist era. This is also affecting the credit facility; the mandate of the bank only permits it to lend to groups that are corporate legal entities (e.g. cooperatives), and because so far not one women’s group or water users’ association has transformed itself into a cooperative under the new cooperative law of 1994. AIDB (now the Development Bank of Ethiopia) has used virtually nothing of the USD 1 million or the USD 240 000 credit lines made available by the programme for small-scale irrigation and women’s income-generating projects respectively.

Traditional irrigation practices do not seem to cause significant problems of soil erosion - in fact farmers seemed more aware of potential problems on irrigated areas. Water is not used efficiently, and there is much over-irrigation, but water quality is good and irrigable land is reasonably well drained. The use of chemicals and fertilisers is very low, and is likely to remain so for some time. Overall the programme is not a cause for concern from the environmental aspects, although it is a matter of regret that in fact there have not been any more positive gains from the sub-components in the conservation programme.

There is some evidence that the development of kitchen gardens has contributed to an improvement in the nutritional standards, and may also be providing small surpluses for sale.

Recommendations and lessons learned

Many of the lessons that have emerged from evaluation of the Special Country Programme are not new. The Staff Appraisal Report was aware of the need for commitment by government, farmers, and departmental staff if the programme were to succeed. For example, irrigation scheme selection criteria were recognized as of paramount importance to the success of the irrigation component, and were even a feature of the loan agreement. There was a clear implication in the report that irrigation schemes would face trouble without the use of proper selection criteria. That the government did not define the selection criteria is no fault of the Staff Appraisal Report. Praise is due to its authors for attempting to steer the programme away from familiar dangers. However, despite this prior knowledge, one of the primary lessons of this evaluation is that without proper selection criteria properly applied, irrigation schemes will not be sustainable.

Connected to this, unenforceable cost recovery agreements between government and farmers, in which the latter agree to contribute something later in return for something else now, are of little value in promoting participation, ownership and commitment. The process needs to be turned around and made enforceable: farmers should be required to contribute something in advance of any investment of government funds, as their part of the investment, to engender ownership and commitment.

Regional and national government needs to play a much more effective role in promoting awareness of cooperative legislation, and they should make registration of WUAs a condition of public investment in irrigation. Government should then enter into irrigation support and cost recovery agreements only with WUAs that are corporate legal entities.

Future project appraisal reports should contain a detailed plan, prepared by the project formulation or preparation mission in consultation with the borrower, and endorsed by the appraisal mission, which should equip the implementers for the tasks that are expected of them, and give guidelines to which they could refer during implementation. Similarly, sustainable irrigation development requires that planners (i.e. the engineers) must be re-oriented towards social, environmental, and economic aspects of planning. In addition, any future irrigation or other project or programme should limit itself to a single operational region.

Given the apparent waste of programme funds on overseas academic training that had no long-term effect, future funding for foreign training must be carefully considered in the light of the opportunity cost of the funds involved and the real long-term capacity-building benefits to be derived. Where the training for the public sector is thought to be worthwhile (e.g. M&E), then future programmes should take account of post-graduate salary differences between public and private sectors, and "top-up" where necessary.

Supervision missions should be geared to what is implied by the term; they should be more frequent and of longer duration, aimed at keeping the project on track in qualitative as well as disbursement terms. For example, supervision should be involved in approval of investment decisions for sub-projects within a programme.

Farmers' associations need to be democratized, so that they become genuine people’s organizations where farmers can debate, analyze, and decide what they need, and learn how to solve their problems. Farmers, and the civil society they inhabit, should have the power to participate democratically in the decision-making process.

Women’s groups should be given assistance to organize themselves into legally recognized organizations, as a means of empowering them to participate in available credit schemes.

The market’s competitive capacity for designing and building irrigation schemes should be explored as a matter of course in project implementation.

The M&E system should be redesigned to conform to the new federal structure of Ethiopia. Given the increased number of authorities within the federal system, the redesign should attribute particular care to providing smooth information flows between the programme’s grassroots and the central administrative structure. Officers in charge of central, regional and zonal M&E should be provided with specific training. Particular efforts are needed to develop impact-evaluation skills. In that connection, M&E officers in the field should be provided with the financial and logistical means to keep in frequent contact with target groups.

At an early date, the Minister of Agriculture or a high-powered delegate should meet with his or her counterpart at the Ministry of Finance to settle the issue of unnecessary payment of customs duty on equipment and vehicles imported under the programme’s aegis.

Given the great need for some action that would ameliorate soil erosion and bund destruction, the donors should propose a new bund stabilization project for East and West Harerge. This would allow completion of the SCP bund-stabilization work, formulation of extension messages, and diffusion to hill farmers. Alternatively, a bund stabilization component could be included in a potential follow-up project including the SCP project area.

A soil scientist with experience in soil erosion measurement techniques should be consulted for recommendations on corrections for errors in the present system of erosion measurement.


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