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Behind the scenes of an IFAD project: Your top questions answered

©IFAD/GMB Akash

As many of our readers know, the work we do at IFAD revolves around projects that benefit poor people living in some of the world’s most rural areas. Of course, there’s a lot of careful and detailed work that goes on in support of that – and you’ve been asking about it! We get a lot of comments and questions through our social media channels from readers who’d like to know more about how we design and implement our projects. We’ve chosen some of the most common questions and answered them here.

How are project areas selected?

When IFAD is looking to identify new geographical areas for projects, it begins by working with government officials and other local stakeholders, such as farmers’ organizations, NGOs and research institutes, to identify those areas of the country where rural poverty is most severe and widespread. Wherever possible, it draws on already existing data, as well as local stakeholders’ knowledge and participating governments’ own priorities. It also takes into account any other development programmes and projects in the area, both to avoid duplication of efforts and to promote synergies amongst the various interventions wherever possible.

Having identified some potential areas, IFAD then does further research to understand the main factors shaping poverty in these areas, as well as the potential economic opportunities open to those who live there. The final selection of the project area is a joint process, involving IFAD, government officials and other relevant stakeholders, that seeks to balance need, opportunities and national priorities.

How do people get involved in the projects?

Once the project area has been selected, IFAD works hard to identify the “economically active” poor people in the area: those who are unlikely to be able to move up the economic ladder without external support, but would be able to take advantage of the economic opportunities provided by a project. Usually, these people are small-scale agricultural producers.

IFAD is particularly concerned with ensuring the participation of people in the most marginalized groups: women, rural youth and, in many places, indigenous peoples. It also looks to include those from other marginalized groups who may not have traditionally been considered “economically active,” such as people with disabilities.

The intent is not to exclude those who are better off; indeed, the inclusion of a limited number of local commercial farmers and entrepreneurs can be critical to a project’s success. Rather, IFAD is trying to prevent “elite capture” of the project’s benefits, ensuring that they are reserved for those who are most in need of assistance.

The process of designing a project involves identifying the local economic opportunities that poor small-scale producers and others can access and take advantage of, and then building a set of interventions that enable them to do so. To accomplish this, IFAD seeks input from, and works closely with, local rural people’s organizations: for example, farmers’ groups and associations, savings and credit groups, water users’ associations, and natural resource management groups, as well as women’s, youth and indigenous people’s groups. It’s a powerful way of ensuring that those would benefit the most from the project can actively participate – and that the projects will target the things that people are most interested in.

Increasingly, IFAD-financed projects are also working directly with investors and entrepreneurs who are active in the project areas – those who can offer services to, and markets for, small-scale producers – to help them expand their business. IFAD, and the projects it finances, are always keen to identify, work with and support such people.

Who manages the projects, and what is IFAD’s role beyond financing?

The projects that IFAD co-finances are government projects. IFAD gives a loan or grant to the participating country’s government, and the project is then controlled through a financing agreement between IFAD and the government. All projects are expected to support and contribute to the participating government’s national policy priorities.

As a result, projects are generally managed by small teams called project management units, or PMUs. Their members can be government officials, often (but not always) from the national ministry of agriculture, or can be technical assistants who have gone through a rigorous selection process. In some cases, the PMU may even sit within a contracted organization such as a local NGO. In all cases, however, the PMU reports to the government (typically through a steering committee of some sort) and, in managing the project, is generally expected to use government procedures for planning and budgeting, financial management and reporting, and procurement.

Similarly, specific project activities are usually implemented by the relevant ministries, government agencies and contracted service providers. Depending on their exact nature and the local resources available, some activities may implemented by NGOs (e.g. community mobilization) or private companies (e.g. reconstructing irrigation canals). However, all activities are expected to be supervised by, and ultimately report to, the PMU.

In cases where rural people need to provide feedback or raise concerns, they can do so either through dedicated consultation sessions throughout the project’s life cycle, or through mechanisms that allow them to contact IFAD directly.

During the project’s implementation period, IFAD’s role can be described as providing “supervision and implementation support.” It works to ensure that the project is being managed in line with the procedures defined in the financing agreement, particularly in terms of financial management and procurement, while also working closely with the PMU and supporting it in its role as manager of the project. IFAD’s technical specialists and consultants visit each project at least once per year, often twice per year, to carry out these tasks. After each visit, they rate the project’s performance against an array of indicators and monitor any improvements and problem areas. During their visit, they also make sure to seek the feedback of project participants to understand whether their expectations are being met.

What happens when the projects end?

The results achieved by projects, and the effects they have on participants and local economies, are expected to be sustainable and to continue beyond the project’s lifetime. Thus it is hoped that small-scale producers can, for example, continue to use the improved production technologies introduced under a project, or continue their membership in farmers’ organizations that enable them to negotiate with buyers for their produce. Above all, everyone involved – IFAD, the PMU and also the participants – should plan so that the skills learned and the capacities improved during a project can be maintained beyond the project’s end date.

However, projects are also intended to be more than an end in themselves. IFAD works with governments to draw out the lessons learned from each project and explore the extent to which the innovations introduced under the project that have proven to be successful can be scaled up through nationally owned policies and programmes.

Click here to learn more about how IFAD designs its projects.

Click here to browse the list of currently active projects and programmes.