Evaluation of IFAD's technical assistance grants programme for agricultural research

diciembre 2002

Executive Summary

I. Introduction

1. The Strategic Framework for IFAD 2002-2006 (SF) identifies "Improving Access to Productive Natural Resource and Technology" as one of the three strategic objectives to enable the rural poor to overcome their poverty. In the context of high pressure on land and water resources and the choice faced by poor farmers to restore land fertility or migrate to cities, it states that:

Appropriate technologies and research to improve farm productivity by boosting returns to land and labour are essential if the former choice is to be a viable option. As solutions are often context-specific, technologies need to be developed through appropriate research and validated working together with the rural poor –something that is still quite rare. Full appreciation needs to be given to the existing risk-management strategies of small farmers. These often differ for men and women farmers, requiring gender-differentiated approaches (SF, page 10).

2. The importance of agricultural research for rural poverty reduction has been recognized by IFAD since its inception. Financing agricultural research on a grant basis as part of IFAD's technical assistance programme was explicitly mentioned in IFAD's Lending Policies and Criteria. At that time the agenda was defined very broadly. IFAD's programme of technical assistance grants for agricultural research (AR/TAGs) was established in 1979 to provide grant support to the international agricultural research centres (IARCs) and, through them, to the national agricultural research systems (NARS). In all, a total of USD 171.5 million has been allocated for 199 grants from 1979 to December 2001. Traditionally, such grant recipient organizations are made up of two groups: centres of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) and non-CGIAR centres1.

3. Goal and objectives of the programme. IFAD's approach in supporting agricultural research is embodied in a number of Executive Board policy documents between 1979 and 1991 and an internal 1997 document. In all of these documents the objectives and coverage of the programme remained broad, without clear prioritization. This has led to a wide-ranging interpretation of the role of the programme in-house and by IFAD partners. The linking of AR/TAGs with IFAD projects to enhance their poverty impact has always been central to the programme. There has been consistent emphasis on the contribution of grant-financed research to the technological base of the IFAD investment programme. The overall goal of the AR/TAG programme is seen as contributing to the reduction of rural poverty through the following means. These can be considered programme objectives, although they have never been stated clearly as such in a policy paper:

  • develop and adapt appropriate and sustainable technologies within a reasonable span of time in support of resource-poor farmers and the rural poor;
  • promote IFAD's partnership with IARCs so as to influence their agenda towards pro-poor research;
  • strengthen the capacity of these institutions and NARS for pro-poor research and training;
  • support technology-related socio-economic research to ensure relevance and sustainability;
  • generate knowledge and information on appropriate agricultural technologies and practices.

II. The Evaluation

4. There had been no comprehensive evaluation of the AR/TAG programme in the more than two decades of its operation. This evaluation was requested in the context of the formulation of an IFAD policy for the use of grant funds. The evaluation's main objectives are to: (i) assess the achievements of the programme in relation to its objectives; (ii) analyse main trends in AR funding and the current relevance of the programme to IFAD's strategy and priorities; (iii) identify and analyse factors that have affected the programme's operations and likely impact; (iv) provide recommendations for future orientation of the programme and building blocks for articulating a strategy of grant resource allocation.

5. The evaluation methodology. The evaluation was designed to be participatory, involving recipient organizations and IFAD staff. The evaluation process was both desk and field based. It adopted a four-pronged approach: (i) a desk review of all available documents for a sample of 42 grant programmes (mostly closed) involving 67 TAGs out of the 199 approved between 1979 and 2001 (i.e. 34% of the total); (ii) discussion with a range of IFAD staff, particularly those involved in AR/TAG processing and management; (iii) a formal survey of recipient institutions (31 institutions were surveyed and 25 responded, i.e. an 80% response rate); and (iv) field visits to nine selected grant recipients in Africa (ICIPE, ICRAF, IITA, ILRI), Asia (IRRI), the Near East (ACSAD, ICARDA) and Latin America (CIP, IICA) and to some cooperating NARS.

III. Overview of the Programme

A. Programme History and Development

6. During the very early years, the programme's research emphasized commodities and was heavily food-crop oriented. In these years, IFAD supported CGIAR centres2. with the aim of adapting the technology thus created to the needs of resource-poor smallholders, and of influencing the research agenda of the CGIAR system towards resource-poor, smallholder production systems. The early emphasis on commodities soon gave way to a progressive shift towards farming systems and related socio-economic research and sustainability issues. In time, the programme became more end-user oriented and aware of the location-specific nature of pro-poor research and it widened its institutional coverage.

7. Over the years, the programme itself became more systematized. A set of formal guidelines for AR/TAGs were first prepared in 1997. The programme was seen as an instrument that "focuses on the development, through applied and adaptive research, of innovative and effective means to eradicate rural poverty"3 These guidelines and the associated internal screening processes represented an attempt to direct the programme in accordance with IFAD's strategic focus and priorities and to make it more useful to the Fund's loan portfolio. In mid-2000, grant screening and selection procedures were strengthened and applied within a competitive grants system, based on scoring against specific criteria, to identify the most appropriate research and training grant ideas for entry into the pipeline4.

B. Allocation of Programme Funds


Box 1: Twenty-two Years of AR/TAG Operations

  • Total allocation. From 1979 to 2001 a total of 199 AR/TAGs were approved for an overall sum of USD 171.5 million. Of these, 39 are ongoing.
  • Importance in the TAG programme. From 1979 to 2001 AR/TAGs accounted for 37% of total IFAD grant funds. From a peak of 71% in 1979-83, the share declined to 29% in 1997-2001.
  • Annual funding varied from USD 14 million in 1981 to below USD 2 million in 1992.
  • The size of individual AR/TAGs has varied from USD 150 000 to USD 4 million, with an overall average size of USD 1.35 million. Most TAGs have a three-year implementation period.
  • Regional profile. Almost all AR/TAGs are regional and multicountry. About 3% have been classified as global. The highest share of funds has been granted for activities in Africa and the Near East and North Africa (NENA) (41% and 29%) while Asia's and Latin America's shares averaged 17% and 10% respectively.
  • Institutional profile. AR/TAGs have been granted to 35 international agricultural research centres: 16 are CGIAR and 19 non-CGIAR centres. CGIAR centres received 62% of total grants.
  • Distribution of funds. The bulk of programme funding has been concentrated among relatively few institutions, both among CGIAR (38% of the centres have been allocated 71% of the funds) and non-CGIAR centres (32% of the centres have received 82% of the funds).
  • Two CGIAR centres, IITA and ICARDA, have received the largest number of grants and the largest allocation of funds per centre (25 and 21 grants respectively, and together 35% of CGIAR grant funding). Among non-CGIAR centres, ICIPE and ACSAD have dominated (16 and 14 grants respectively, and together 44% of non-CGIAR funding).
  • Sectoral distribution of AR/TAGs has favoured crops and cropping-system research (48%). This emphasis has declined in recent years, with a parallel rise in the importance of research in livestock, natural resources and pest management. In the period 1997-2001, crops, livestock and natural resource management (NRM) absorbed 30%, 19% and 15% of AR funds respectively.
  • Type of research supported5. There has been a shift from the earlier emphasis on mainly applied and some strategic research to downstream adaptive research and technology validation.
  • Management. The Technical Advisory Division (PT) has managed most AR/TAGs (87%). Traditionally, PT was the programme's exclusive manager. Since April 1997 a decentralized approach is used, whereby regional divisions also manage TAGs, and allocation of TAG resources among divisions is on a fully competitive basis. As of December 2001, the regional divisions were managing 16 grants out of 39 ongoing, even though PT continues to maintain the coordination function.
  • Phasing. About half of the research funded has consisted of interlinked grants or ‘phases'.

IV. Evaluation Findings

A. Research Priorities of the Programme

8. The evaluation found large differences of opinion about the research priorities of the programme. These are evident not only among grantee institutions, but also within IFAD. At present, technical, methodological, institution building and, to a much smaller extent, policy priorities appear to coexist. A clear policy and strategic framework, pinpointing the priorities, is still to be provided. Selection of TAGs for screening seems to occur on a case-by-case basis, with chance and personal factors still playing a role. Some grants are clearly supply driven and others are initiated by IFAD. In many cases an interaction takes place, and often a reconciliation between the research agenda pursued by the applicant institute and that of IFAD. Within IFAD, there are clear differences among regional divisions in agricultural technology and research priorities, some matching the existing AR/TAG selection criteria better than others6. At the grantee level, IARCs claim that the TAG priority-setting process has usually involved consultation with farmers, as well as diagnostic surveys with a multidisciplinary team, but such evidence is often lacking in reports.

B. Trends in Approach

9. Positive trends are evident in the evolving research approach of the programme from 1979 to the present. The grants approved show increasing concern for poverty, environmental sustainability and major production systems in arid and semi-arid regions of the world. This trend has been gradual and the 1997 guidelines for AR/TAGs served to legitimize these trends rather than breaking new ground.


Box 2. Trends in the Research Approach 1979-2001

  • Greater focus on technology appropriate to poorer farmers, taking their resource constraints, experience and preferences into account to improve adoption potential.
  • Shift from a commodity focus, particularly in crop research, to a systems approach.
  • Downstream shift to technology validation and dissemination. Some newer TAGs are actually testing dissemination strategies and preparing extension materials.
  • Increasingly active involvement of farmers in the research process. Farmer-participatory research has increasingly become part of downstream research, and results are being taken into account. However, scope still exists for stronger engagement of farmers and community-based organizations (CBOs) in setting research priorities.
  • Increase in multidisciplinary and multi-institutional approaches. Newer TAGs are doing a better job of integrating social research with technological components and widening institutional partnership. Economic and policy research remains weaker. Initial cost-benefit analysis of alternative research options is rarely performed, nor are policy issues affecting research sufficiently assessed.
  • Increasing attention to gender issues. Newer TAGs seem to be better integrating gender issues into agricultural production and post-harvest activities and including women in participatory on-farm testing and technology selection decisions.

C. Research Design

10. The large majority of reviewed AR/TAG Executive Board proposals are well designed in terms of rationale, objectives, description of main components and core research. Recently, a few grant design documents have attempted a logical framework presentation. The most common weaknesses are: (i) overambitious design in terms of numbers of countries and objectives; (ii) lack of reference to relevant earlier TAGs; (iii) absence of information on implementation capacity, particularly regarding national partners; (iv) inadequate or missing description of monitoring and evaluation (M&E) arrangements; and (v) lack of clear guidelines for impact assessment. Proposals of CGIAR applicants were usually of a better quality than those of non-CGIAR. About two thirds of the TAGs reviewed were found to have made fairly important changes in the TAG design during implementation, only some of which have a clear justification. These appear to have occurred because of an incomplete match between the IFAD research agenda and the institutional agenda of the grantee.

D. Relevance of the Research

11. The objectives of TAGs, as stated in Executive Board proposals, have been relevant to the needs of the rural poor, to the AR/TAG programme, and to IFAD regional priorities and strategies. Some 86% of these proposals had stated goals and objectives with clear poverty relevance. But the poverty relevance of outputs is much lower, in part because of above-noted changes in focus during implementation. The documents reviewed suggest that only about 60% of completed technology outputs can be described as clearly appropriate to the rural poor. The gap between the relevance of objectives and the relevance of outputs is mostly caused by an insufficient attention to the livelihoods and constraints of the poor and to insufficient farmer participation in determining research priorities. However, the evaluation noted a marked improvement in this aspect over the years through the increasing integration of socio-economic research and farmer participation. Implementation capacity constraints at the national level have also been a cause.

E. Research Partnerships

12. NARS7, particularly government agricultural research institutions (GARIs), remain the main research partners of IARCs. The institutional survey results show that this is more the case with CGIAR than with non-CGIAR centres (100% for the first group versus 56% for the second). With few exceptions, in most countries this partnership is often strained by financial and capacity constraints of NARS. They have little cofinancing available for implementing project activities and are often short of human resources. IARCs also noted GARI's capacity weaknesses, inadequate reporting and accounting performance, poor facilities, lack of long-term plans, and limited social science expertise. These weaknesses have hampered research implementation.

13. CGIAR centres were found to have established more working relations with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and extension systems than the non-CGIAR centres. Overall, NGO partnerships are increasing, particularly for facilitating farmer involvement in on-farm research and for technology dissemination, but CBOs appear to be less involved. NGOs were praised as partners. But there is far less evidence of active NGO partnership in the TAG reports than is claimed in the survey responses. Most research tries to work with extension systems, which occasionally benefited from grants and training activities. These systems also collaborated in research, particularly farmer-participatory field testing. However, extension partners were found to be underfinanced, with increasing problems of staffing, incentives and mobility. Overall, the focus on multidisciplinary research has led to a search for new partners that can provide socio-economic research expertise (e.g. universities, social science research institutes and NGOs). The emergence of the private sector as a strong player in the field of agricultural research calls for innovative forms of partnership that safeguard the interests of the poor. The evaluation also demonstrates that there are cross-fertilization benefits in promoting cooperation between NARS themselves in multicountry TAGs.

14. IFAD was instrumental in promoting steering committees (SCs) as a mechanism for TAG governance. Both the survey and report reviews indicate that they are now used by a large majority of TAGs, often in combination with workshops8. CGIAR centres appear to have an almost unanimous belief in the value of SCs for purposes of review, planning coordination, monitoring, ensuring transparency and developing a sense of ownership of the activity. IFAD has almost always been a member of the SCs of its supported research, together with other implementation partners. Overall, the SC mechanism has worked well for field coordination and management of AR/TAGs.

F. Grant Linkages with IFAD Loan Projects

15. Linking the AR grant portfolio to the loan portfolio, to enhance IFAD's investment projects, has always been central to the AR/TAG programme. IFAD loan projects were expected to use technology developed by the AR/TAGs to increase their impact on rural poverty reduction. The evaluation found that such direct linkage is more likely to happen with downstream, farmer-participatory research, which produces poverty-appropriate technology of visible benefit to and attraction for farmers. Longer-term research will usually have a time-lagged and indirect input. Some IARC respondents to the institutional survey understood the concept of linkages in a much broader sense, to include activities that would set the stage for such linkages to eventually take place (e.g. on-farm technology testing in an IFAD project area or IARC staff joining an IFAD project mission).

16. Fully 78% of Executive Board proposals for AR/TAGs named specific IFAD loan projects that "would benefit" (or similar wording) from the TAG. Forward, parallel and backward types of linkage expectations were found. However, very rarely were linkages with IFAD loans mentioned in the original IARC proposals. In a few cases, memoranda of agreement were attached to the Board proposal providing details of such linkages.

17. Evidence of achievement of linkages was much lower. Among the reviewed TAGs that had anticipated linkages, only 46% had evidence of any form of linkage, even when considerable latitude of definition was allowed (i.e. only 36% of the TAGs reviewed could be considered successful in achieving linkages). Where multiple phases were involved, linkages were seldom achieved during the first phase. Research reports, including those of supervision, rarely dealt with the question.


Box 3. Reasons for Weak Linkages of AR/TAGs with IFAD Projects

  • Absence of joint setting of loan and grant priorities;
  • lack of synchronization between grant and loan projects, often caused by start-up delays of the research financed by the TAG;
  • limited agro-ecological and geographical overlap between grant and loan projects;
  • poor information sharing between IFAD and IARC on technology needs in the ongoing IFAD portfolio and the project pipeline;
  • lack of knowledge on the part of IFAD staff in the regional divisions of the technology output of TAGs and its potential use in projects;
  • lack of directly usable outputs by the TAG that could be scaled up under loan projects;
  • IARCs expect the loan project to pay for costs involved in any collaboration;
  • difficulty in identifying the technology constraints and needs of loan projects in a geographical region that could be addressed through an AR/TAG;
  • insufficient appreciation of the rationale for and potential of grant and loan linkages; and
  • different cycles and procedures for grant and loan project design and approval that do not recognize or reward grant and loan interaction.

G. Achievements of Research Objectives

1. Overview of Achievements and Constraints

18. Achievements. In line with programme objectives, the achievements of the agricultural research TAGs are not restricted to technology outputs. Nevertheless, the majority of TAGs reviewed stated their objectives in terms of technology development. The evaluation found that TAGs performed less well in terms of achievement of stated objectives than of design or relevance. About 60% were found to have achieved most or a good part of their objectives, about one third achieved some of their objectives and 10% achieved little. CGIAR-implemented TAGs were much more likely to have satisfactory or higher performance than the non-CGIAR ones9. There were no clear regional trends. Although some IARCs appeared less effective than others, definite judgement on institutional performance could not be made on the basis of the sample, which does not include all TAGs implemented by all IARCs. In some instances, there were major differences in performance between different TAGs implemented by the same grantee.

19. Research time horizon and other constraints. From its inception, the AR/TAG programme has stressed achievement of outputs over the short to medium term. During implementation this has not always been the case. In the early stages of the programme, multiphased grants were more common, with IFAD supporting several longer-term research programmes. Even in later stages, delays in producing research output in the short term (three years) have also been observed, requiring follow-up TAGs. A number of explanations can be given. Agricultural research is, inherently, a long-term process. In addition, production systems of smallholders in unfavourable environments, for example in rainfed areas of Asia, Africa and the NENA region, are by nature complex and difficult to address. Livestock, agroforestry, and some other types of research supported by the programme need a longer time horizon because of life-cycle factors. Where NARS are weak, more time is needed initially for capacity-building. Farmer-participatory research also takes extra time but is essential for generating appropriate outputs. These factors often make the search for technically, environmentally, socially and economically sustainable production technologies a medium-to-long-term task.

20. The above arguments notwithstanding, producing short-term output proved feasible when research projects supported a slice of an established research programme, building on accumulated knowledge from past research. Such TAGs must therefore carefully choose the entry point for IFAD support, making sure that it is towards the end of the research programme, preferably at the technology validation stage. However, research restricted to this shorter-term focus can be restricted in terms of innovativeness and relevance as well. There could be, therefore, a trade-off in the choice between a short-term approach to produce immediately usable output and longer-term research. Better correspondence was observed between short-term output expectations and research approaches in recent years, due to the increased downstream nature of IFAD support. Other constraints faced by TAGs in the achievement of objectives include: (i) over-ambitious technology objectives at the design stage; (ii) inadequate capacity (especially among NARS); (iii) funding shortfalls (e.g. where cofinancing did not materialize, costs were underestimated, or inadequately allocated); (iv) climatic factors that delayed technology testing and therefore completion of outputs; (v) difficulties in partnering with NGOs and CBOs or establishing linkages with extension systems.

2. Technology Outputs of Different Types of Research

21. Short-to-medium-term crop research on established crops. A good part of the programme-financed crop research has been short or medium term, building on earlier research and products in established food crops, especially in grain crops such as rice, wheat, maize and grain legumes. Frequently such research uses new and improved varieties to develop and refine location-specific technological packages and associated management practices. Sometimes this research has built on indigenous knowledge and technology rather than, or in addition to, building on scientific research. This has usually resulted in small improvements in existing crop and livestock management practices (such as planting time, spacing arrangements, integrated pest management (IPM)), but which can be easily adoptable and result in significant improvements in subsistence crops for smallholders.

22. Longer-term crop research on established crops. The programme also financed long-term research (multiphase, multiyear) for established crops, as in the case of support for rainfed rice by IRRI and WARDA and for the faba bean by ICARDA. In the latter case (TAG 1-ICARDA), the first two phases of research generated new varieties and some component technologies (i.e. weed control, fertilizer application, pest management, with research conducted on-station). Later, some integrated production packages were developed in farmers' fields. The third phase developed linkages with development projects to accelerate dissemination. The ICARDA faba bean research (the first research grant in IFAD) was a pioneering grant for multidisciplinary and participatory research, with many technology outputs and positive nutritional impact on the poor. Its main weakness from IFAD's perspective was that technology outputs generated were too input-intensive to be used by the poorest farmers.

23. Research on ‘neglected' crops. IFAD has taken a lead in mobilizing interest in and donor support for research on some important ‘neglected' food crops of the poor, with notable success, especially in Africa. Research on plantain, bamboo and rattan, and cassava are examples. For instance, cassava research has been supported over the entire lifespan of the AR/TAG programme, with a range of technology products generated along the way. These have included: improved cassava varieties, highly cost-effective biological control technology of two major cassava pests, transfer of improved cassava varieties from Africa to Latin America, and development of a global cassava policy. The impact of long-term involvement in the cassava programme on the rural poor in Africa has been remarkable (see Box 6, page 11).

24. Integrated crop pest-management research. Since the early 1990s, the AR/TAG programme has financed several TAGs for development of IPM technologies in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Some of these have generated a range of outputs, including adapted new varieties, IPM technology, crop management practices, and methodological adaptations of the farmer-field-school methodology. The sample TAGs reviewed on IPM research suggest on average a four-to-five-year research period for generating outputs. Resolving production and legal issues as well as collective action at the community level can take a longer time and need more initial attention under IPM TAGs.

25. Livestock research. Four important areas of TAG livestock research have been supported: (i) improvement of quality and quantity of livestock feed; (ii) breed improvement and reproduction; (iii) pest control and disease management (development of control measures and surveillance systems); and (iv) crop/livestock integration. Most of the livestock feed-related research has focused on developing low-cost alternative feeding strategies, improving quality of crop residues and promoting forage, especially legume forage, in rotation10. Much of this research has revived old technologies that were ‘gathering dust on the shelf,' adapting them to the needs of smallholders. TAG-supported livestock research produced some worthwhile output despite the acknowledged challenges of livestock as compared to crop research in semi-arid areas. Research on livestock faces diverse and complex constraints related to the longer life cycle of animals, the intricate role of livestock in the livelihood strategies of the poor, its linkage with natural resource degradation and the specific role played by poor rural women in the livestock subsector. The evaluation noted the increasingly better integration of socio-economic studies into recent livestock research and the firmer rooting of this research at the rural community level. This was associated with progressive improvement in the quality of research output in livestock TAGs.

26. Research on commercial insects. Since 1995 IFAD has provided support to ICIPE's Commercial Insect Unit (TAGs 308 and 491). Some of this research has built on traditional knowledge and practice to generate improved technologies for sericulture and apiculture for African farmers. It is one of the few TAG research areas that have been effective in generating post-harvest technologies as well as production technologies.

27. Fisheries research. These TAGs have been limited to inland fish farming, primarily in Bangladesh. This cluster of grants to ICLARM shows a clear learning curve in understanding the relevance of technology to poverty, as well as in linking grants to IFAD loan projects.

28. Research on NRM. This highly relevant body of research has focused on generating technology outputs for water, soil and agroforestry, mainly in NENA and West Africa. The specific outputs have included technologies, strategies and policies for conserving water and for the management and rehabilitation of pasture and rangeland. Agroforestry research has been comparatively less successful to date in completing appropriate technology outputs – one reason being that it requires a long lead-time, at least five years or more, and skills for intensive multidisciplinary work at the community level, which not all IARCs possess. Recently designed agroforestry TAGs have integrated past lessons learned, and serious efforts are being undertaken by IARCs to widen research partnership and integrate socio-economic issues at community levels.


Box 4. Lessons on the Generation of Technology Outputs

Overall the programme has been reasonably effective in achieving the technology generation objectives. Crop and cropping-system research began early in the programme and benefited from accumulated knowledge and lessons. Livestock and NRM research face particularly difficult challenges in the context of poor rural communities, but notable improvement has been observed in tackling these issues in the more recent TAGs. Lessons to be noted are:

  • A gap can exist between the objectives and challenges of the research and the capacity to carry out that research effectively. TAG design should address such gaps and introduce measures to address them.
  • The desire for grantee institutions to conduct the research they want, as well as what IFAD wants, has resulted in a shift or a dual focus during implementation of some TAGs.
  • IFAD's focus on short-to-medium-term outputs can work in the case of established crops with ongoing programmes if an appropriate entry point is identified for TAG-funded downstream research.
  • Longer-term innovative research is needed in fields critical for the poor (e.g. water harvesting, NRM, neglected crops, higher-nutrition food crops) and can include some strategic/applied research as well, provided that potential linkages with the rural poor and IFAD projects can be established.
  • A longer time frame is also needed when research involves community-level collective action and combines various disciplines, e.g. NRM, IPM and livestock.
  • The three-year implementation period can result in incomplete technology outputs and undermines impact achievement and assessment for many TAGs.


H. Poverty Impact of Agricultural Research

29. Agricultural research can have a major impact on poverty; the difficulty lies in proving such impact on a case-by-case basis. In the case of the AR/TAG programme, this is made even more difficult by a lack of relevant data. In the review sample, evaluations were available for less than a quarter of the sample TAGs11.The survey results argue that more studies have actually been done, suggesting missing reports or delayed impact evaluations (after TAG completion). Time and budget limitations and lack of clarity among grantees on what kind of evaluation IFAD expects have been some constraints. Two main approaches were used by TAGs for impact assessment: technology adoption studies and economic impact assessment, which measures economic rates of return of research. Very few TAGs were able to go beyond these definitions to estimate the research impact on rural poverty.

30. The available data confirm that attribution of poverty impact to agricultural research is complex and based on a number of assumptions. It occurs indirectly, through the impact of research on agricultural productivity and through the effect of productivity changes, on a variety of other economic and social aspects at micro, sectoral and macro levels. The issues are as follows:


Box 5. Difficulties in Assessing the Poverty Impact of Agricultural Research

  • The link between improved technology, increases in productivity, and poverty reduction has multiple causal or conditioning factors, of which agricultural research is only one.
  • It should not be assumed that adoption of technology is equivalent to benefits, especially in the case of the poor. Findings show that poorer farmers often do not have the needed asset base to make the best use of new technologies, even if they adopt them.
  • The multiple livelihoods of the poor complicate the attribution problem. Improvement in one, such as own-farm production, if accompanied by the need to invest more time or inconvenient time, can result in loss in another, such as wage income.
  • Gradual erosion and reversals can occur in impact over time due to changes in adopted practices, loss in effectiveness of the technology, capture of benefits by the better off, or market factors.
  • Attribution is particularly difficult to verify in the case of small contributions.

31. To compensate for the lack of data, the evaluation adopted a methodology for assessing the potential for poverty impact based on "appropriate products/available dissemination mechanisms". It defines TAGs as having poverty impact potential if they can meet the following four impact conditions or proxy indicators of impact:

  • Impact condition # 1: usable technology outputs have been completed.
  • Impact condition # 2: outputs are appropriate to resource poor farmers.
  • Impact condition # 3: there are no major constraints to dissemination.
  • Impact condition # 4: linkages have been established with a system for dissemination.

32. The evaluation checked the above-mentioned conditions as a proxy for poverty-reduction potential in the reviewed sample. Less than one third of the reviewed grants fulfilled these conditions. However, the evaluation would like to note that this figure has to be interpreted with care as only a rough proxy indicator. TAGs were more likely to meet the second condition – that of appropriate technology – if farmers had participated in the research. Notwithstanding the above findings, there are several cases of research TAGs in which the poverty impact has been established unambiguously (e.g. research on cassava, faba beans, rice, potatoes, plantain and some others).

33. Recognizing this scarcity of impact data and the methodological lacunae in the field, in recent years IFAD has emphasized impact achievement and assessment in its support to agricultural research. It has contributed to the development of impact evaluation methodologies that have become an important input for the CGIAR Special Programme on Impact through the Standing Panel for Impact Evaluation. IFAD is supporting this initiative to develop methods that identify the necessary conditions for favourable impact of agricultural research on the poor and determine the best methods for assessing this impact12.


Box 6. Poverty Impact of Agricultural Research: Biological Control of the Cassava Mealybug (TAGs 36, 136-IITA)

The TAG research for biological control of the cassava mealybug (CMB) is a good illustration of the potential impact of agricultural research. Cassava is the staple crop of 200 million Africans, primarily the poor. In the 1970s a new pest, the CMB, began to devastate cassava fields throughout Africa and threaten the food security of millions. TAG 36-IITA supported strategic and applied research that identified a natural enemy of the CMB – a tiny wasp from Paraguay – as the control solution. After careful study, it was disseminated in Africa in the 1980s. Thus the solution did not involve the use of expensive pesticide inputs by the poor, but was essentially ‘free'. Under two phases of TAG 136, coverage was expanded throughout cassava-producing countries in Africa with excellent results. By 1994, some USD 27 million had been spent on CMB control. The benefits to poor farmers whose fields had been saved was estimated at USD 4.5 billion, or more than 160 times the cost of the control measures13. Others have estimated the benefit-cost ratio at 149:1.

Some of the factors that lead to the successful impact of this research:
  • early identification of the pest threat;
  • sensitization of governments concerned to the seriousness of the threat, resulting in commitment to control;
  • long-term grant support from IFAD, coupled with additional support from loans and other donors;
  • existence of good institutional capacity and technical expertise at IITA;
  • additional technical support from a consortium of international and national institutions;
  • ability of IFAD to identify gaps in research capabilities and makes funds available to eliminate them;
  • efficient backstopping and flow of funds from IFAD to IITA; and
  • low costs for the poor.
The success of this programme has helped galvanize support for agricultural research, particularly in the area of biological control.


I. Institutional and Policy Impact of Agricultural Research

34. The evaluation recognizes the important policy and advocacy role performed by IFAD through the AR/TAG programme. Together with other committed donors, IFAD has strongly advocated the poverty focus of the CGIAR system, became a founding member of the Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR), and is playing an important role in the CGIAR Special Programme for Impact Assessment (see paragraph 33).

35. The role of the programme in promoting pro-poor research became particularly clear through the institutional survey and visits. IFAD efforts in this respect succeeded in sharpening the focus on poverty-related research in the work programme of the CGIAR system. In recognition of this role, in 2002 IFAD was invited to become an official co-sponsor of the system. It has also taken the lead in funding certain areas of poverty research (e.g. neglected crops) and has catalysed other donor support. At the regional or national levels, about one third of TAGs in the sample had important policy or strategy objectives. Many of these actually achieved some degree of policy impact. Some newer TAGs are explicitly building in activities for policy dialogue and influence.

36. IFAD's advocacy role in the creation of GFAR in 1996 is worth noting. The Fund was a lead agency in the global effort that led to its establishment, and chairs its support group to mobilize the international donor community around the GFAR agenda. GFAR aims at facilitating cost-effective partnerships and strategic alliances in research to reduce poverty and food insecurity and to conserve and manage biodiversity and natural resources. Main aspects of the GFAR agenda are: demand-driven research implemented through equal partnerships among stakeholders; strong farmer perspectives in setting the research agenda, taking into account the regional heterogeneity of farming systems; and effective involvement of the intended users (poor farmers) in research design and technology diffusion.

37. The AR/TAG programme has also had a positive impact on institutional capacity, at least in the short term and particularly at the NARS level. Almost all IFAD-financed TAGs have been engaged in NARS capacity-building, particularly for GARIs14. The evaluation findings suggest that at least 50% have achieved a significant impact at this level, with most of the remaining TAGs also having a positive impact. Capacity-building at the national level has consisted of short-term training on research through workshops or short, focused courses on technical subjects and methodological topics (e.g. impact assessment, farmer-participatory research and gender issues). Sometimes extension staff have been trained as well as researchers15.

38. However, several respondents to the institutional survey highlighted the difficulty of achieving field-level impact from training because of the serious financial and human resource constraints of the large majority of NARS. There are a number of factors involved, such as the high level of turnover in some countries of national staff (including those trained by TAGs), and the lack of equipment and of travel budgets for field research. Other types of capacity-building activities have included financing of higher degrees for researchers; provision of laboratory equipment or other essential capital investments needed for research.

J. Knowledge Impact of Agricultural Research

39. The review found that almost all TAGs had generated lessons worth disseminating. Actual dissemination of those lessons, and therefore impact on knowledge diffusion, still needs strengthening. Often the knowledge generated by TAGs has only been disseminated to a small group of ‘network' researchers and has not reached the larger development community, farmers or a wider circle of IFAD staff. Technical advisory notes (TANs) are potentially very useful tools for the dissemination of TAG research findings to a wider development audience, both inside and outside IFAD. Since 1998 some 55 TANs have been produced. Of these, 15-20 are ready for posting on the IFAD TAG subsite. TANs are short and user-friendly, and PT is taking measures to increase both the number and quality. Other methods used by TAGs to disseminate information include scientific journals, conferences and sourcebooks, dissemination through networks16 and through IARC information centres.

K. Programme Management

40. Management of the AR/TAG programme has undergone major improvements in recent years. Historically, the programme was entirely managed by IFAD/PT. In earlier years grant selection decisions were centralized, with little involvement of regional divisions. More recently there has been a conscious effort to address this situation, and to involve regional staff in TAG initiation and management, in order to ensure that financed research is in line with regional strategies and research priorities, and to enhance linkages with IFAD projects17. Steps have included: (i) the PD guidelines for AR/TAG, implemented since 1998, which introduced, inter alia, the possibility of TAG initiation and management by regional divisions; (ii) new TAG screening criteria and procedures, developed by an in-house task force in 2000, with immediate application; (iii) the institution of TANs to generate and disseminate learning from the programme, which have been very well received by IARCs and other partners; and (iv) annual reviews of ongoing grants, starting in 1999, which perform important functions, e.g. feedback to grant recipients and reporting to IFAD's Executive Board.

41. Despite the significant progress noted above, there is still room to enhance efficiency. Overall, IARCs commended IFAD's management of TAGs and the professionalism of the staff involved. While fully acknowledging improvements introduced by IFAD over the years, they and IFAD staff highlighted the following areas where further improvement can be made: (i) streamlining and systematizing the approval processes to increase efficiency; (ii) providing more comprehensive guidelines for progress and completion reporting, including a unified reporting format and some guidance on expected evaluation; (iii) speeding up disbursement processes; and (iv) providing practical means to improve linkages of TAGs with IFAD investment projects. Supervision of TAGs continues to be variable both in frequency and quality. Funding constraints are a major reason. One solution used by several TAGs has been to include funding under individual TAGs for supervision purposes, but difference of opinion exists on this practice.

V. Main Conclusions and Recommendations

A. Overall Performance of the Programme

42. The AR/TAG programme has now been operating for more than two decades. During that time, IFAD has played a strong advocacy role in redirecting the focus of the CGIAR system towards more poverty-focused research, taken the lead in opening up new research areas, and continued to play a pro-poor advocacy role in a number of international forums related to agricultural research. The programme has achieved several well-known successes in agricultural research. There have also been some less-publicized failures. The majority of TAGs fall somewhere between these two extremes. TAGs are usually well designed, and overall they have been reasonably effective in achieving stated objectives. Due to unavailability of impact assessment studies, the impact of most TAGs on poverty cannot be rigorously established. TAG impact on establishing effective partnership for research and strengthening national research institutions appears to be highly positive, though sustainability cannot be rigorously verified.

43. Overall, the programme remains relevant to the IFAD poverty mandate and its current SF. It has progressively focused on enabling the rural poor to access appropriate technology for improving their livelihood and on the technical and socio-economic needs of those living in ecologically fragile environments. Better use of farmer-participatory research and multidisciplinary approaches has helped, but more can be done to involve farmers and CBOs in setting research priorities. As the programme has increasingly included new research areas, it has become too diffuse in its focus. Supply factors and individual interests still play too large a part, and IFAD has yet to provide coherent institutional direction for the programme and better means to link it with its loan projects.

44. The overall programme impact is clearest in terms of institutional capacity-building, both at the IARC and NARS levels. Its poverty impact is least easily pinpointed, in part because linkages with IFAD loan projects have rarely succeeded and because adequate impact evaluations are not systematically undertaken. Impact on knowledge is generally agreed to be much weaker than it could and should be, and yet is probably the easiest to improve. TANs are a good step in that direction. Room for improvement exists with respect to the programme's efficiency, in particular proposal review procedures and implementation. Traditionally, the programme focus has been shared between CGIAR and non-CGIAR centres, while distribution of grant resources between institutions within these two categories has become highly uneven. Programme efficiency and systematization of procedures can be further improved.

B. Conclusions on Programme Policy, Strategy and Procedures

45. The AR/TAG programme needs a clear strategy, priorities and better focus. While grant approval processes have received considerable attention, the technical or research subject matter priorities have not. The programme is attempting to cover too many areas within a framework of zero growth in resources. In addition, basic issues, such as the main goal and objectives of the programme, research priorities, longer versus short-to-medium term research, and upstream versus downstream focus are still not quite clear. Some regional divisions have elaborated regional research strategies that guide their own TAG selection, but these are not positioned in a well-defined institutional policy/strategy of support for agricultural research, and will benefit from further focus and prioritization. A ground-level policy and strategy discussion is needed to determine what IFAD research priorities are, given the new strategic framework, how these can be linked to regional priorities, and how the programme can address them effectively.

46. The AR/TAG programme needs to establish a niche in innovative research for poverty reduction. Despite emphasis in all programme documents, including the 1997 guidelines, on "the need to develop through applied and adaptive research innovative and effective means to eradicate rural poverty", innovation has not been a main criterion in assessing grant proposals. The SF and the recent document, Evaluation of IFAD's Capacity as a Promoter of Replicable Innovations, highlighted IFAD's potential catalytic role as an innovator. There is a need for the programme to carve out a niche in the generation of an innovative research agenda. Possible areas include: no-tillage farming; water harvesting; higher-nutrition food crops for the poor; new research partnerships that include emerging actors in the field of agricultural research (e.g. the private sector and NGOs); more-effective integration of the poor in the setting of research priorities and in implementation; and similar topics of relevance to IFAD investment projects.

47. The consistency between resource allocation in the AR/TAG programme and that of IFAD loans should be increased. Ideally, the allocation of resources in the programme should be consistent in thematic terms with the planned allocation of resources in the Fund's loan portfolio. This is important if grants are to address research issues identified by operations and to link with future projects. Such planning is not currently done. Synchronization between TAG and loan programmes (the former preceding the latter chronologically) should be done on the basis of regional and location-specific identification of research needs and the tailoring of AR/TAG programme priority areas accordingly.

48. Programme procedures need strengthening. TAG procedures need to be more efficient. A series of positive moves in recent years culminated in the implementation, in May 2000, of the AR/TAG screening criteria. These have made programme procedures more transparent and participatory. However, the programme needs to further enhance selection rigour and efficiency. Proposal selection criteria and processing procedures need revisiting and further systematization. IARCs have asked for more guidance at all stages.

49. Reporting should be more appropriate to IFAD concerns. Implementation completion reports do not appear to be prepared consistently. Nor are progress, completion or supervision reports comparable in terms of topics covered and adequacy. Impact assessment is not systematically performed. Problems faced during implementation and solutions proposed are not sufficiently discussed, and yet these are among the most informative parts of the report for IFAD, and also for future TANs. Overall, there is a tendency to produce either publicity documents or technical dissertations. Linkages with IFAD loan projects are usually not covered.

C. Conclusions on the Research Funded

50. AR/TAG grants show wide variation in quality. There are some very well-conceived and executed TAGs and some poor ones, with CGIAR institutes performing better overall in quality of proposals, performance and impact. Research proposals need to give more attention to capacity for implementation both at IARC and NARS levels. This also raises the issue of whether IFAD should give priority to the better-performing IARCs and NARS, that is those with a good track-record, and phase out support to those that are consistently low performers.

51. Linkages between TAGs and IFAD loan projects have been difficult to achieve. In the evaluation assessment, this is the weakest aspect of the programme. Limited forward planning, lack of joint grant/loan coordination, unclear research priorities, difficulties in identifying technology needs and delays are frequent causes. Past experience has provided some useful lessons on how to better achieve linkages. There are some good models among the TAGs. More could be done at the TAG proposal and start-up stages to lay a better basis for linkages, particularly by IFAD staff. Loan projects can play a more effective role in enhancing such linkages. They should not be viewed only as a platform for dissemination of TAG-financed research output, but can also provide the field context in which downstream research should be designed and adapted. Encouraging cooperation and exchange of knowledge among country portfolio managers (CPMs), IFAD/PT technical advisers, grant managers and project field staff is essential to the fulfilment of this role. Supervision and reporting have not paid adequate attention to the linkage question.

52. There has been a general trend in the programme towards more multidisciplinary, multipartner and participatory research, which has been accelerated in recent years. This is in line with IFAD's SF and priorities, and ensures better impact of research on poverty. Although social aspects are becoming increasingly well integrated, economic and policy issues need more attention. Cost-benefit analysis, initial policy-constraint analysis and policy dialogue need greater focus in the future. Scope for improvement exists in increasing the participation of farmers and CBOs in determining research priorities and in providing insights into traditional practices and innovations. CGIAR and some non-CGIAR centres are gradually developing the necessary capacities.

53. Some TAG projects are moving beyond technology validation to technology dissemination activities. While in some ways, this is desirable, it also raises strategic issues. At the IFAD level, there is danger of overlap between AR/TAG focus and activities and those of the IFAD/NGO Extended Cooperation Programme and, indeed, those of the IFAD loan programme. Replacing national research and extension systems in some of their activities is another danger. At the level of IARCs, there is the question of value added and the match between such research and the skills of grant recipients.

54. There is a danger of research achievements and impact being undermined by the narrow time frame. The very large majority of research activities financed have a duration of three years, even though IFAD Executive Board documents allow three to five. Extensions, funding of subsequent phases and sometimes small grants are occasionally used to ‘patch up' grant projects in order to allow them to achieve their objectives. This approach is inefficient and is advantageous neither to the grantees nor to IFAD. Apart from capacity constraints, it suggests that research activities, and particularly the newer impact-oriented ones, need a longer implementation period than the usual three years. A longer time frame of four to five years would result in better research, particularly where life cycles are long or considerable initial capacity-building or background social research is needed. It would also permit a realistic assessment of impact.

55. The programme has made a good contribution to capacity-building, particularly in participatory methodologies and poverty-oriented research at the national level. But in spite of efforts made to help NARS, there are a number of constraints on longer-term impact: the generally weak financial situation of NARS and staff attrition and rotation. IFAD needs to better recognize the implications of these constraints. If capacity-building is to be a major objective of the programme, then adequate time and funding should be allowed for this purpose under TAGs. If production of output is the overriding goal, then the programme should be more selective of national partners, favouring those with existing capacity.

56. Too little is known about the poverty impact of individual TAGs or clusters of TAGs. This argues for making impact evaluation a more important part of TAGs, with expectations laid out clearly at the design stage, adequate time, and funding earmarked for the purpose.

D. Recommendations

(a) Developing a Policy and Strategy for IFAD's Support to Agricultural Research

The programme has not had an agreed-upon strategy for guiding IFAD's contribution in the area of agricultural research. Preparation of a research strategy for the programme will first need to feed into, and then build upon, the output of the new task force that will recommend a general policy and strategy for IFAD's grant programme. Preparation of the research strategy should therefore build on the following axes: (i) IFAD's SF for 2002-2006; (ii) the new IFAD strategy for grants in general, and synergies between research grants and other grant lines; (iii) programme experience and lessons as captured by this evaluation; and (iv) regional technology gaps and research needs, as articulated by regional strategies. The strategy would need to cover:

  • programme goal and general objectives;
  • link with the IFAD SF;
  • research focus of the programme, types of research IFAD should and should not finance, including extent to which it should be strategic or downstream, and respective time horizon;
  • specific thematic priorities or technology gaps that have greatest importance during 2002-2006 (to be reviewed periodically);
  • expected emphasis on innovative research;
  • expected linkages between AR grant programmes and IFAD's loan portfolio;
  • broad spectrum of partnership in setting research priorities;
  • range and types of organizations the programme should support;
  • relative importance to be given to agricultural research for technology development, as compared to socio-economic and policy research;
  • relationship between grant-funded and loan-funded research;
  • complementarity and linkages of AR/TAGs with other IFAD grant lines (particularly the Extended Cooperation Programme and small grants);
  • expected role of farmers, CBOs and local participatory processes in setting research priorities and in implementation of research programmes; and
  • guiding principles for generation and dissemination of knowledge from TAGs.

(b) Strengthening the Linkages between Grant-Financed Research and the IFAD Investment Programme

  • Establish a system for joint loan-grant planning that would also strengthen communication between IFAD CPMs, grant coordinators, grant managers and the loan project staff concerned;
  • synchronize grant/loan implementation;
  • define the role of IFAD projects at the field level in forging linkages with grant-financed research;
  • prepare/finalize divisional agricultural research strategies for both loan- and grant-funded research, with clearly identified priorities;
  • establish a corporate-access database for the programme that is not limited to closed and ongoing grants, but includes pipeline applications in order to ensure greater transparency and to inform the joint planning process; and
  • share information on technology outputs of the programme more widely through TANs on the IFAD website, as well as through other information networks and dissemination mechanisms.

(c) Enhancing the Poverty and Institutional Impact of the Programme

  • Increase TAG duration to up to five years, as indicated in policy documents, to allow initial time for situational assessment and post-research time for impact evaluation;
  • systematically include farmers, CBOs and NGOs as effective partners in setting research priorities and implementing research programmes;
  • direct greater attention to both assessment of national capacities and further building of capacity for participatory research;
  • systematically evaluate the impact of all TAGs, with earmarked funding for the purpose and agreement on indicators, including measures of utilization of grant outputs by IFAD investment projects; and
  • identify consistently low IARC performers and determine steps to be taken.

(d) Improving Internal Processes and Procedures

  • Further systematize grant review and selection procedures to enhance transparency, ensure fair competition among applicants and assign appropriate weight to innovative research;
  • conduct better reviews of final proposals, particularly of institutional arrangements and capacity, M&E arrangements and research budget;
  • review the impact of the 2000 screening procedures and processes during their ‘trial' period to determine any need for improvement; and
  • provide more comprehensive guidelines to grant applicants and recipients, and for supervision, evaluation and impact assessment of AR/TAGs.

(e) Resources Required Should be Reassessed and Adequate Allocations Made

  • The recommended refocusing of the programme should be associated with a reassessment of the financial resources needed within the existing overall resource constraints.
  • Human resource needs should also be reassessed, with a view to enhancing the programme's management and coordination, strengthening linkages with IFAD projects, and continuing technical backstopping and quality control. Such assessment requires a detailed analysis of the workload and time budget for IFAD staff concerned and is outside the scope of the present evaluation.
  • Adequate resources should be allocated for supervision, and new, more effective modalities examined.
  • The decentralization process introduced since May 2000, though highly desirable, needs to be reassessed in terms of its effect on linkages with IFAD loan projects. At the time of the evaluation, none of the new TAGs (post 2000) had been completed and hence could not be included in the assessment.

(f) Knowledge Generation and Dissemination Requires Immediate Attention

  • TANs are a positive step in the right direction, but delays in their production need to be addressed. The notes could be fine-tuned to make them more useful to institutions and projects that might wish to consider the technology.
  • A system needs to be set up to capture and share the many non-technical but useful lessons being generated on topics such as: institutional partnerships, participatory processes in research, methodologies such as impact monitoring and evaluation, and on transferability, sustainability and technology adoption processes.

1. The ‘non-CGIAR' group is used for classification convenience by IFAD and is not an internationally identifiable group as such.

2. The CGIAR started in 1971 as an early endeavour of the international community to develop a global agricultural research system based on donor funding. This system is currently sponsored by IFAD, the United Nations Development Programme and the World Bank. Starting with a few international centres, it has grown into an association of 58 public and private members that supports a system of 16 specialized international agricultural research centres. The most recently formulated mission of the system (2001) is "to achieve sustainable food security and reduce poverty in developing countries through scientific research and research-related activities in the fields of agriculture, forestry, fisheries, policy and environment". In an effort to maximize the effectiveness of the global research efforts, at the end of 2001 the CGIAR system introduced the global challenge programmes to support high-impact research that tackles issues of overwhelming global and/or regional significance and requires partnerships among a wide range of institutions.

3. Guidelines for Agricultural Research and Training TAGs, Programme Management Department (PD), December 1997 (internal document), p. 1.

4. The main criteria are the following: (a) the grant proposal should address problems and opportunities of high priority to the rural poor; (b) the proposal should address issues and concerns of relevance to the regional strategies and the current and future IFAD loan portfolio; (c) the institution(s) identified should have competence and comparative advantage in the activities proposed; and (d) the technical approach should be feasible and should have potential to deliver medium-term benefits to the rural poor.

5. Research typologies are defined as follows: strategic research – quest for the solution of specific research problems; applied research – application of scientific knowledge to the solution of a practical problem; adaptive research – development of technological packages using solutions to practical problems from applied research; technology validation – on-farm trials to test applicability of technological packages to specific locations/situations.

6. At the time of the writing of this report, two regional divisions' research strategies were available for review: Western and Central Africa, and Near East and North Africa.

7. NARS refer to all governmental and non-governmental organizations involved in agricultural and related research at the national level.

8. But SCs are used far less frequently by non-CGIAR centres (56% compared to 93% for CGIAR).

9. Differences in reporting quality may also be a factor.

10. IFAD, Assessing the Impact of the IFAD TAG Programme on Agricultural Research and Technology Transfer in the NENA Region 1980-1998 – working document, November 2001.

11. Some IARCs emphasize impact assessment more than others. ICARDA alone has produced more than six impact-assessment studies on its received grants.

12. Fourteen country case studies will be completed by April 2003, and a paper synthesizing the preliminary results of the case studies is in preparation. A major feature of these studies is that they go beyond conventional treatment of poverty as solely a matter of income, expenditure, food intake or nutritional status. Drawing on participatory poverty assessments, the studies look at the vulnerability of poor people to various trends and shocks and use the sustainable livelihood framework, thus paying attention to a wide range of capital assets.

13. Main source: L. D. Swindale, Globalization of Agricultural Research: A Case Study of the Control of the Cassava Mealybug in Africa, available at www.worldbank.org.

14. The need for such capacity-building has varied among regions and countries.

15. Some TAGs have trained more than 100 scientists (in one case, 500).

16. About a quarter of the agricultural research TAGs have established networks of one kind or another, usually of researchers and, much less frequently, mixed networks that include researchers, extension agents, IFAD project staff and occasionally farmer association representatives.

17. PT maintains the coordination function. This includes: management of the grants pipeline (processing and reviewing of all grants); Executive Board document preparation and Board presentation; implementation progress reports to the Assistant President/PD and external reporting through the IFAD Annual Report and to various international research forums; liaison with other IFAD divisions on TAG-related matters; and implementation follow-up with TAG task managers in PT and the regional divisions.



Evaluation of IFAD’s capacity as a promoter of replicable innovation

diciembre 2001

Abbreviations and acronyms

CBOs Community-Based Organizations
CENTRIM Centre for Research in Innovation Management
CLP Core Learning Partnership
ECP Extended Cooperation Programme
ED Economic Policy and Resource Strategy Department
FSA Financial Services Associations
IDS Institute of Development Studies
IFI International Financial Institution
IPS Individual Performance System
M&E Monitoring and Evaluation
MFS Machobane Farming System
NGO Non-Governmental Organization
OE Office of Evaluation and Studies
PD Programme Management Department
RRP Report and Recommendations of the President
SPA Special Programme for Sub-Saharan African Countries Affected by Drought and Desertification
TA Technical Assistance
UNIDO United Nations Industrial Development Organization
UNOPS United Nations Office for Project Services

Back to Top


During the course of the Consultation to Review the Adequacy of the Resources Available to IFAD, there was considerable discussion on the question of the Fund's raison d'être. The Fund is no longer the only international financial institution (IFI) mandated to fight rural poverty because larger, more influential multilateral organizations are now engaged in this task. It was widely recognized that IFAD's direct impact on rural poverty is limited by its small size and scarce financial resources and that, in order to justify its existence, it must play a catalytic role in influencing other partners in the international community. This implies, inter alia, that the Fund must increase its impact by promoting the scaling up of successful and replicable innovations aimed at reducing rural poverty. These innovations involve technology and development approaches or strategies for reaching the rural poor more effectively.

In the IFAD V: Plan of Action (2000-2002), it was recommended that the Fund should 'Develop methodology and evaluate IFAD's capacity as a promoter of replicable innovations in rural poverty reduction, in cooperation with other partners.' The Office of Evaluation and Studies (OE) initiated this task at the end of 2000 (although it did not originally appear in OE's work programme for that year) with financial support from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the Finnish International Development Agency.

Back to Top

Objectives, approach and methodology

Objectives of the evaluation

The evaluation had two main objectives:

(i) provide a better understanding of how IFAD may strengthen its capacity and performance as a promoter of replicable innovations, in line with its comparative advantages and with stakeholder expectations; and

(ii) provide building blocks and a framework for developing an IFAD strategy to promote innovation, and to access and share knowledge on innovation for rural poverty reduction.

Four evaluation questions were addressed:

  • How does IFAD understand innovations?
  • How do IFAD current instruments work for innovation?
  • What is IFAD's experience with field-based innovations?
  • Do IFAD's organization and culture enable its staff and partners to innovate?

Approach of the evaluation

The evaluation was conducted in two phases. Phase I involved three related tasks: (i) developing a conceptual framework for IFAD with regard to innovation and its capacity to promote it; (ii) examining the innovative role of IFAD's instruments, including their strengths, weaknesses and future potential; and (iii) identifying and reviewing some innovations promoted by IFAD. The last illustrate the innovation processes as understood and practised by the Fund in cooperation with its partners, and allow preliminary lessons to be drawn. Phase II focused on IFAD's organizational capabilities and culture in this area, inasmuch as they influence the ability both of its staff and of its partners to promote field-level, replicable innovation for rural poverty reduction.

Methodology of the evaluation

Phase I was based on: external sources of information on innovation practice and theory; a review of IFAD policy, project and grant documents to assess the organization's understanding of innovation and the functioning of various IFAD instruments with respect thereto; a review of the section dealing with innovation in the Reports and Recommendations of the President (RRPs) produced over the last two years; an in-depth analysis of innovations promoted by IFAD at the field level; and discussions with IFAD staff.

Case studies were selected on the basis of: staff proposals; regional and sectoral representation; potential for learning from experience; and the availability of information (preferably based on evaluation) on the history and process of innovation. In close consultation with staff of the Programme Management Department (PD) and OE, the evaluation reviewed five case studies on previous IFAD innovative approaches and initiatives that were evaluated and assessed at the field level. These case studies describe the innovation processes practised by the Fund and its partners and allow lessons to be drawn therefrom. The case studies reviewed were:

  • Case Study No. 1: Innovation in Soil and Water Conservation under the Special Programme for Sub-Saharan African Countries Affected by Drought and Desertification (SPA)(CS-1)
  • Case Study No. 2: Innovation in Rural Finance: Financial Services Associations (FSAs) (CS-2)
  • Case Study No. 3: Innovation in Land Tenure Policy for Natural Resource Management (CS-3)
  • Case Study No. 4: Reviving Endogenous Innovation in Farming (CS-4)
  • Case Study No. 5: Innovation in Gender Mainstreaming (CS-5)

Phase II involved assessing IFAD's organizational capability to promote replicable innovations and constraints encountered at the institutional level. The main premise is that if, as an organization, IFAD is not innovative it cannot provide the enabling environment for its staff and partners successfully to promote field-level innovations. Three different perspectives of IFAD's innovation ability were assessed: those of its staff; those of its cooperating agencies; and those of partner non-governmental organizations (NGOs). This assessment was undertaken jointly by the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) at the University of Sussex and the Centre for Research in Innovation Management (CENTRIM) at the University of Brighton.

In line with OE's current evaluation approach, the evaluation under reference was overseen by a core learning partnership (CLP) composed of IFAD staff representing a wide range of units, interests and grades within IFAD.1 In addition to informal consultations, the CLP held two workshops at IFAD at the end of each phase to discuss the results obtained and decide the way forward. Senior management was briefed on the results of Phases I and II in November 2001.

Back to Top

Highlights of evaluation findings

Understanding innovations and scaling up

Complexity of promoting innovations for IFAD. First and foremost, it should be noted that IFAD finds itself in a rather complex position in terms of promoting innovation. The extent to which it can have a direct influence on innovation outside its own organizational boundaries and instruments is seriously limited both by its small size and by its modus operandi. While IFAD can most definitely be an innovator with respect to its own organizational/bureaucratic structure and norms and the instruments it uses to discharge its mandate, as an IFI with no field presence, it can only innovate through partnerships. Furthermore, IFAD has no research and development capacity to support innovations.

The innovation process. A fairly common way for social sciences to view the innovation process, for both technology and development approaches, is to: (i) recognize a need/opportunity for innovation; (ii) scout for and select a promising innovative solution from a range of options; (iii) test (in order to check users' reactions) innovation performance and impact; (iv) modify and improve as a result of test results; (v) extract and share lessons learned from innovations; (vi) promote (by 'marketing' or dissemination) the innovation; and (vii) arrange for users to replicate/upscale innovations with support from various agencies. The present innovation process in IFAD is loosely defined, and its various steps are not clearly recognizable in the institution's work. Important steps - such as testing - may be omitted or cut short in order to arrive more quickly at the promotion stage. The Fund's entry and exit points in the innovation process may also vary along the entire spectrum of project design and implementation.

IFAD's innovation agenda. IFAD's intention to promote innovation in rural poverty alleviation has been always present in the organization's rhetoric. However, there has always been a lack of clear strategic directions to drive innovation, guide operations in scouting for innovation and for its promotion and scaling up. This lack of strategic directions to set a clear innovations agenda for IFAD has led to:

  • no common institutional understanding of innovation and its process;
  • an incomplete innovation process; not well integrated into IFAD's operations;
  • unclear selection criteria for innovation; no guiding principles for its promotion; and no clear 'marketing strategy' for scaling up successful innovations;
  • little record and assessment of IFAD's field innovations and of their contribution to poverty alleviation; and
  • no clear mechanism for learning from and disseminating innovations.

As a consequence, IFAD's innovation concept and practice have been interpreted in a variety of different ways. The current approach to innovation is individualized, decentralized and unsystematic, and is determined by individual and chance factors rather than by a well-defined and acceptable sequential process. While innovations do take place, this fragmented, ad hoc style does not lend itself to good use of IFAD resources.

Influence of the design-implementation gap. While IFAD has a relatively strong project design capacity (through consultants) and a small capacity to administer loans or grants, its lack of field presence has limited its capacity for project supervision and implementation follow-up. This design-implementation gap has further reduced IFAD's ability to gain a clear understanding of innovation and to influence its process and impact. IFAD and/or its partner agencies have not systematically followed up innovations identified at the design stage. Supervision activities have no clear focus on the innovative features included in project design and rarely recognize implementation-stage innovations. Furthermore, evaluation does not explicitly evaluate innovations. When IFAD innovation takes place, only rarely are lessons learned about the innovation and its impact.

Influence of partnerships. Even at the design stage, IFAD's capacity to scout for and select innovations is limited by time constraints on design missions and the lack of an IFAD country presence. Establishing good partnerships at the country level would greatly facilitate this task. Innovation intentions (as expressed in project design) will not materialize unless implementation-stage partners (including cooperating institutions) are committed to and supportive of such innovations. Implementing innovations is not, by itself, sufficient. To increase their impact, learning from innovations and sharing, disseminating and managing the lessons learned from them are essential for replicating and scaling up successes. Forging strategic partnerships from the design stage is critical for scaling up, i.e. adopting innovations on a much larger scale. To date, IFAD has placed little institutional emphasis on the role of partnerships in promoting innovation and in replicating and scaling up successful cases. This is a serious shortcoming because IFAD must be seen as a promoter of innovations through its partnerships, rather than as an inventor.

The challenge of finding capacity and commitment among partners. IFAD's own capacity for innovation is largely determined by the capacity and willingness of its partners in this respect. The Fund has the following groups of partners: (i) donors; (ii) borrowers; (iii) cooperating institutions (some of which are also cofinancing partners); (iv) NGOs, civil-society organizations and the private sector; (v) implementation partners (governmental and non-governmental) at the field level; (vi) international, regional and national research institutions; and (vii) the rural poor and their formal and informal organizations. These partnerships influence the types of innovations that the Fund promotes; they affect how successfully it goes about this task; and they determine what is learned from the innovation experience. Overall, partnerships have been a mixed blessing in terms of IFAD's capacity to promote innovation: some have increased this capacity; others have limited it.

One major constraint to the success and impact of innovations is insufficient capacity and commitment among implementation-stage partners, such as decentralized government structures, rural finance organizations, NGOs and community-based organizations (CBOs). Innovative approaches to reducing rural poverty, particularly in terms of strengthening grass-roots institutions, usually call for better management skills and more committed staff. NGOs are often used to fill the gaps in government capacity and to build up community-level capacity. However, there is a dearth of experienced, competent NGOs to provide field support to relatively large investment projects. A large number of small implementation partners may also create serious coordination difficulties for project management. Capacity constraints in projects are not always addressed early enough.

IFAD has traditionally relied on partners for supervision and project-based monitoring and evaluation (M&E). Resource constraints affect the frequency and quality of field supervision, which in turn affects innovation performance and limits IFAD's learning on innovation. Project-based M&E is an important element in the success and replication of innovations, but there is almost never enough capacity for it among the Fund's implementing partners.

IFAD's innovation style. At the grass-roots level, IFAD's innovation style may be seen as falling into two broad categories: a 'facilitation' style, primarily based on recognizing promising local know-how and adding a 'minimal' external input or improvement; and a 'promotional' style that involves the transfer and marketing of external innovations adapted to local conditions and/or mixed with indigenous elements. On the basis of the case studies reviewed, and in consultation with IFAD staff and partners, it was agreed that innovations promoted by IFAD in the field have five characteristics that should form the basis of IFAD's operational definition of innovation:

(i) It is a process.
(ii) It occurs in reference to a context.
(iii) It is aimed at improvement.
(iv) It has potential for replication and scaling up.
(v) It takes place in partnership with others.

Characteristics of innovation promoted by IFAD

The majority of IFAD's innovations are not really 'new', although they may be new to the project area involved. Most have already been tried out (this does not imply 'tested') by other partners or by the rural poor themselves. The IFAD intervention may make small modifications to adapt the innovation to the project area and people involved, to implementing agency capacity, to a different scale and pace of implementation, or to IFAD's own policies and priorities.

Most IFAD-promoted innovations do not involve major change. While there are exceptions, the majority of IFAD-promoted innovations involve relatively small improvements to an existing approach or technology. This is not a negative feature: given rural poor people's reluctance to take risks, small incremental improvements are more likely to have an impact and to be sustainable than are sudden major changes.

IFAD-promoted innovations usually require some change in attitudes or practices by the rural poor, such as different forms of organization, different agricultural, financial or marketing practices and different patterns of relationships with governments, the private sector, other actors in the rural sector or each other.

The Fund is generally more concerned with innovations in approach or strategy than with innovations in technology. Technological innovation concerns intermediate technology rather than 'high technology'. Both indigenous technology and technology from external sources may be involved.

IFAD-promoted innovation is wide-ranging. The innovations most commonly referred to in RRPs are: participatory approaches; innovative implementation strategies; new approaches to decentralization or capacity building; and new partnerships (usually referring to NGOs, civil-society organizations or private-sector actors).

The Process of promoting innovation in IFAD's practice

Recognizing the need for innovation. In principle, the IFAD innovation process starts with recognizing a need or opportunity for innovation or improvement, preferably by the rural poor themselves. In projects, this may occur during formulation-stage participatory rural appraisals. CS-4 on the Machobane Farming System (MFS) and soil and water conservation activities under the SPA clearly illustrates how successful innovations are based on local farmer practices and interests.

Selection of promising innovative solutions. IFAD has no formal innovation pipeline or established criteria for selecting or identifying innovations, but draws on a range of sources such as technical assistance (TA) grants for agricultural research and training, the IFAD/NGO Extended Cooperation Programme (ECP), project experience, NGOs, bilateral organizations, the private sector and indigenous knowledge. Both chance and development fashion appears to play a role in this regard. With MFS (CS-4), the innovation was identified by chance during implementation, whereas the innovations mentioned in CS-3 and CS-5 were the result of a systematic search for solutions.

Testing of the innovation. Testing is a relatively weak aspect of the innovation process in IFAD. Loan processing pressures or taking it for granted that 'innovation is always good' often lead to inadequate testing (as in CS-2). Innovations may be tested through IFAD's TA grant-funded projects or even in a limited way in loan projects. It often happens that projects pick up innovations that have been tested by an NGO or other partners. User participation in testing is illustrated in CS-1 and CS-4.

Promotion of innovations. Inadequate piloting and phasing in promoting innovations may have a serious effect both on the impact of IFAD projects and on loan disbursements. In newer projects, there appears to be a greater awareness of the potential of information, motivation and education (communications support) for catalysing and targeting innovations. Innovations that meet a need may be disseminated quickly by word-of-mouth, as in CS-1, or by means of horizontal promotion, as in CS-4.

Extraction and sharing of learning from innovations. Potentially, IFAD can extract and use learning from innovations at the level of: (i) a single innovative initiative, to improve the impact of that innovation; (ii) several replications of the same innovation (such as FSAs or community funds), to improve the model; and (iii) multiple, and diverse, innovations to enhance IFAD's understanding of promoting innovation for rural poverty reduction. The Programme for Strengthening Gender Aspects in IFAD Projects (CS-5) shows how learning can enhance replication both by IFAD projects and partners.

Replication/scaling up of IFAD-promoted innovation. An IFAD-pioneered innovation may be replicated by other IFAD projects or by its partners such as the World Bank, regional banks, governments or even large NGOs. The Fund, in turn, replicates innovations pioneered by other partners. The case studies demonstrate the need to base any replication on knowledge and learning about the innovation itself and on an understanding of the people targeted, their level of poverty and their livelihoods.

Difficulties in promoting innovation

Innovation is always a challenging and difficult activity - all the more so for IFAD, given its poverty mandate and organizational nature.

Lead-time. Innovation normally takes a long time to develop before it is ready for dissemination. As an example, the field testing of an innovation such as the FSAs (CS-2) may be expected to take at least four-to-five years in any given situation and should be repeated in at least three different countries before going to scale. The challenge: how to find innovations that are ready for dissemination under IFAD projects, without having to resort to extensive testing.

Risk. For IFAD, the main risks associated with innovation are: that the innovation will fail to solve the problem it was intended to address; that it will not reap the intended benefits for the rural poor or even produce negative effects; and that it will become a bottleneck to loan disbursement. A thorough assessment of the risks of innovation is essential even if it leads to longer design time. The challenge: how to develop an IFAD culture that will make it possible to thoroughly assess and discuss such risks.

Impact. Due to their very nature, many innovations in the development arena fail to meet expectations: they may not be adopted or fail to make a positive impact due to poor marketing or dissemination, bad timing or too much opposition. The innovations may prove to be too costly in financial or other terms, or they may simply have been poorly conceived or designed in the first place. Continuous impact monitoring is therefore essential, albeit challenging, because of well-known gaps in capacity and commitment to M&E. The challenge: how to more effectively monitor and assess the impact of innovations in order to assure benefits.

Benefits for the poor. Experience on the diffusion of innovations argues that they will not be as easily or quickly adopted by people who are poorer, less educated, less accustomed to change in general and, for all these reasons, more reluctant to take risks. Partial or late adoption can also decrease benefits. Built-in project activities can assist in bridging information and motivation gaps among IFAD target groups and others in the project areas. Linking innovation to traditional practice and knowledge also helps. The challenge: how to avoid a trade-off between innovation and benefiting the poor.

Opposition. Attempts to introduce innovation always meet with opposition. IFAD projects that attempt to redress historical inequalities and injustice frequently encounter opposition, either overt or subtle, from those with vested power. Examples here are attempts to provide land or water rights to ethnic minorities, poor people or women, and to include women in formerly male-dominated organizations. If foreseen in time, opposition can be diverted (e.g. extension for women in Yemen, as described in CS-5). The challenge: how to predict opposition to innovation and minimize it.

How well do IFAD instruments work for innovation?

The Fund does not have innovation-specific instruments. The promotion of innovation within IFAD is handled through the instruments the Fund uses to discharge its mandate. These include: loan projects, the TA grants programme, M&E, partnership, policy dialogue, etc. The evaluation under review assessed the strengths and weaknesses of instruments for promoting replicable innovations.

IFAD-financed projects. Loan projects are excellent vehicles for promoting and replicating tested, reasonably 'safe' innovations for the purpose of minimizing risks both for the borrowing countries and for IFAD as a financial institution. At the design stage, but especially during implementation, IFAD's projects make it possible to recognize areas that require innovations for rural poverty alleviation and identify promising innovative approaches for future testing and contextual adaptation. Projects can be effective instruments in generating learning on innovations for scaling up and replication by partners. Some, albeit few, successful innovations in IFAD's portfolio were identified and promoted during project implementation. Most innovative activities in IFAD projects have performed less well than expected. Staff estimate that perhaps half the innovative features present at the design stage have not been implemented at all. This may be the result of, inter alia, ambitious/unrealistic design and insufficient capacity and commitment by partners. The weakest aspect of all has been the ability of IFAD projects to generate knowledge about innovation. Much has been done, but little has been learned about innovation.

Since December 1997, a short section on innovative project features has been a mandatory feature of all RRPs. After reviewing that section of the RRPs produced in 1999 and 2000, the evaluation confirmed that there were wide differences in the understanding of replicable innovation and in the innovation approach and processes. Almost none of the innovations included a clear objective and strategy for their scaling up, and a wide range of quality and usefulness was observed. As these projects are all of recent origin, it is still not possible to verify whether or not the innovations materialized or to assess their achievements and replication/scaling up.

Innovation features in RRPs (1999-2000)
% of total
Innovative participatory approaches
Innovative implementation strategy or arrangements
New approaches to decentralization and related capacity building
New partnerships (usually with NGOs)
Gender mainstreaming
Privatization of project services
Innovative research and technology
New targeting priorities or strategies (poor, minorities, women)
New market linkages
Policy dialogue or links
Communication support

TA grants for agricultural research. TA grants are particularly useful for testing and adapting innovative pro-poor farming technologies and approaches within specific contexts. Supporting technological innovation was one of the original objectives of the TA grant programme. Limited forward and backward links with IFAD projects have been recognized as a weakness in the programme. Over the last ten years, TA grants for agricultural research have become more poverty focused and better linked to IFAD projects. However, agricultural research has progressively lost importance over the years and more resources have been allocated to networking, training and capacity building. There has been no assessment of the value of these activities with respect to promoting innovation. In general, innovation learning from TA grants has been below potential, and operational links with both loan and IFAD/NGO ECP projects could be further strengthened (for a good example of such a link, see box below). TA grants for agricultural research have historically involved partnerships with a relatively small group of innovation partners (a few Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) and non-CGIAR regional research institutions). An assessment should be made of how this narrow spread in the allocation of TA grant resources affects the responsiveness to grass-roots innovation needs and how it influences participation in and use of results by IFAD stakeholders in various countries. OE's ongoing evaluation of TA grants for agricultural research will cover all these issues.

TA agricultural research-IFAD/NGO ECP link to test innovative approaches

The IFAD/NGO ECP grant to Sahel-DEFIS in Burkina Faso was triggered off by an IFAD/United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) TA grant for the development/dissemination of appropriate food-processing technology for rural women in sub-Saharan Africa. Research under the TA grant evolved into a 'multi-purpose platform'. In 1995, IFAD/UNIDO proposed a further review of, and improvements to, the concept on such important practical dimensions as regular maintenance and equipment renewal, and on ways of maximizing benefits. Some of this work was undertaken by UNIDO, but gaps remained. The IFAD/NGO ECP grant was therefore provided to fill these gaps through piloting the multipurpose platform at the field level. Both grants fed into IFAD lending activities for rural microenterprises, both in Burkina Faso and elsewhere in the Sahel region.

IFAD/NGO ECP grants to NGOs. The IFAD/NGO ECP programme's main strength in terms of promoting innovation is in the field-testing and adaptation of innovative community-based, socio-economic and institutional approaches and technologies on a relatively small scale for subsequent scaling up by IFAD projects. As such, this small grant line could be a key element in IFAD's innovation process. One problem with the current functioning of the IFAD/NGO ECP is that the NGOs that receive the grants do not always fully understand the concept of goal testing. M&E and reporting on these grants tend to be undertaken more for the purpose of broadcasting the results rather than as a learning exercise. There is also an in-house tendency to use these funds for operational support rather than for promoting innovation. There are several excellent examples of the innovative role of the IFAD/NGO ECP programme at the local grass-roots level. OE's evaluation of the programme in 2000 involved an assessment of its actual and potential use for promoting innovations and of constraints in this respect. An Agreement at Completion was reached between OE, PD and ED. Some of the recommendations contained in the agreement have been implemented, but others, such as the development of an IFAD strategy for its relations with NGOs, are still to be acted upon.


An IFAD/NGO ECP loan project link to test innovative approaches

Peru: The NGO Andean Teaching Research Centre implemented one of the earliest IFAD/NGO ECP grants in Peru - Strengthening Extension and Training Services. The project piloted an innovative area agricultural extension system, that was to be community-based, demand-driven, self-sustaining (with agents paid by communities), culturally and linguistically appropriate, and staffed by men and women selected and trained locally. The project aimed at facilitating an improved and more sustainable extension system that would be able to operate during the prevailing situation of violence in the Andes (the 'Shining Path'). The activities undertaken with the grant acted as a pilot to test the new approach for the IFAD-financed loan project Strengthening Extension Services in the Highlands, and established relations with another ongoing IFAD loan project (185-PE).

Guinea-Bissau: The IFAD/NGO ECP grant Pilot Village-Based Land Management Activities in Tombali created a bridge between IFAD's past and future activities. Specifically, it was to pilot an innovative approach to participatory development and self-reliance and, in that context, test the gestion de terroirs model in Guinea-Bissau. That model recognizes the importance of indigenous knowledge for sound management of local natural resources, and encourages a participatory approach to diagnosing problems and identifying solutions. IFAD's aim was to build on this learning for its new project pipeline. This IFAD/NGO ECP grant project received considerable support and supervision from IFAD and provided inputs to loan projects.


Partnerships. As mentioned earlier (paragraphs 15-18), in view of IFAD's current operational modalities, lack of field presence and limitations on direct supervision, the Fund's promotion of innovation is first and foremost undertaken through its partnerships. Partners play a crucial role in identifying, testing and adapting innovations, in the success of these activities and in determining what is learned from the innovation experience. Strategic partnerships throughout the project cycle and in policy dialogue are essential for scaling up successful innovations to increase the impact of IFAD's operations. While it may be argued that IFAD's role in its partnerships is progressively increasing, it will never have full control of the choice of its partners or of how the partnerships operate. Forging and effectively managing partnerships remains a challenge. Evaluation findings argue that one major constraint to the success and impact of innovation is the lack of sufficient capacity and commitment among IFAD's partners.


A positive illustration of the role of cooperating institutions in innovation

As a general rule, IFAD's cooperating institutions do not play a strong role in promoting innovations, although there are exceptions to this rule. The innovation based on an indigenous farming system in Lesotho (MFS - CS-3) provides one example. In this case, the innovation was introduced during implementation. United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) supervision missions visited this small 'fringe' innovation in the field, agreed to a funding allocation and mentioned it in their reports. While the dynamic personality and dedication of the agro-forestry researcher attached to project management was an important factor, UNOPS deserves credit for its timely efforts that were crucial to the revival and promotion of this indigenous farming system.


Monitoring and evaluation. Project-level M&E identifies problems that call for innovative solutions, provides early warning of problems in innovations, suggests remedial action, and identifies opportunities for scaling up and replication. Independent evaluations (IEs) make an important contribution to IFAD's knowledge base on innovations. To be more useful, however, IEs should focus on assessing innovative activities with particular attention to adoption patterns, bottlenecks and impact.

Policy dialogue. Such dialogue may create an enabling environment for field-level innovation and become a vehicle for wider replication of an innovation that IFAD has promoted. Specific policy changes are sometimes needed for IFAD projects to be able to achieve their objectives. Policy change can itself become an innovation goal in that, through its projects, IFAD consciously strives to influence policy-makers to reorient their policy and regulatory frameworks in favour of the poor. CS3 provides a good example of how project-based policy dialogue can result in innovative changes for pro-poor policies.

The overall picture. While, as a general rule, IFAD instruments have been used sporadically to promote innovation and have met with some success, such use has not been focused and systematic and has not followed a sequential innovation process like that described in paragraph 11. Moreover, the use of IFAD instruments to promote innovations has not been adequately synchronized and linked to the requirements of the innovation process. The synchronization of instruments refers to the planning and sequential use of instruments at the most suitable stage of the innovation process. Remoteness from the field and the limited capacity and commitment of partners has both reduced the effectiveness of these instruments to promote innovation and weakened the innovations' potential for scaling up. Strategic partnerships from the design stage onwards have not been sufficiently used for enhancing IFAD's role in promoting and scaling up innovations, and for increasing the Fund's poverty-reduction impact.

Little has been learned from innovations promoted by IFAD through its instruments. Innovation knowledge-management has yet to reach its potential at both the project and corporate levels.

In view of the foregoing, the Fund has only partly succeeded in promoting replicable innovations, and its overall performance in this area has been inconsistent.

Learning from IFAD's Field Innovations: Features of Innovations that Worked

The findings drawn from the case studies selected for the evaluation indicate that IFAD's successful innovations shared the following characteristics:

  • they followed a more structured process, with clear sequential steps;
  • they addressed a need widely shared by the poor;
  • they built on existing or traditional knowledge, technologies, practice, cultural and social norms;
  • their advantages were clear to farmers and the rewards were rapidly visible;
  • the cost of adopting them was affordable, in terms of the financial burden, increased workloads and social costs;
  • they were relatively simple, and less likely to arouse distrust among the rural poor;
  • they were well tested: prior testing and piloting of innovations is necessary to reduce risks and unknown factors, particularly when innovations are brought in from outside the area;
  • they were based on exchanges of farmer knowledge within project areas and among regions;
  • the project design approach was flexible and frequent adjustments took place during implementation of the innovations;
  • there was genuine commitment on the part of IFAD, project and cooperating institution staff, and systematic IFAD follow-up;
  • the correct policy environment and effective partnership facilitated them; and
  • they are easily reversible if they do not succeed.

A successful low-risk innovation in soil and water conservation in Niger: building on local farmers' knowledge

The SPA experience with indigenous soil and water conservation techniques in the Illela District of Niger illustrates how the nature of an innovation can help to reduce risks for farmers, as described in CS-1. The technology used was traditional pit digging in soils that had been sealed by a thin, hard crust due to the effects of wind and water. These pits are known as tassas in Niger or zai in Burkina Faso. IFAD's role was that of a facilitator - recognizing the potential of the technology and helping farmers to improve and test it. The improved technology spread quickly because the benefits were evident; and, for the reasons given below, the risks to farmers were reduced:

  • A few farmers in the area had already used similar technology, so it was familiar to them.
  • It was simple, and farmers did not need to learn much in the way of new skills.
  • It did not require changes in the crops they grew.
  • The farmers already had most of the tools needed (but pick-ups supplied by IFAD made work easier).
  • The technology relied on local inputs of labour and manure (and the action of local termites).
  • The work could be done during the slow agricultural periods.
  • There were no social problems or cross-cultural barriers.
  • If farmers did not like the results they could easily fill in the holes.
  • The innovation was constantly monitored and assessed through an innovative and committed partnership.

Does IFAD's organization and culture foster innovation?

This question was posed to assess both IFAD's organizational strength and the constraints encountered in promoting innovative behaviour and actions on the part of the organization's staff and partners. As mentioned in paragraphs 5 and 8, IFAD's organizational culture and innovation capabilities provide the enabling environment and incentive framework for its staff and partners to promote field-level innovation.

The innovation capability of the organization is defined as 'effectively and frequently exploiting the value of new ideas for the benefit of one or more stakeholders groups'. The quantitative and qualitative analysis undertaken by the IDS/CENTRIM team (see paragraph 8) aimed at defining the organization's innovation profile and identifying drivers of and blockages to its innovation capabilities. The team undertook a structured assessment of perceived capabilities against an innovation capability reference model. In May 2001, an innovation capability questionnaire was completed by 40 IFAD staff covering the full spectrum of professional grades and covering the previous six months. The questionnaire (customized specifically for IFAD) reflects an innovation model based on existing innovation literature and extensive empirical research on the innovation capability of more than 100 organizations, including ten public service providers and non-profit-making institutions. The questionnaire comprised 56 elements/questions (required behaviours for high innovative capabilities) clustered into 18 components, and was further consolidated into an overarching framework of six domains. The quantitative results of the questionnaire were analysed to identify drivers of and blockages to organizational innovation. Key issues from analysis of the completed questionnaires were identified for use in follow-up internal and external interviews and discussion group sessions. Qualitative data from these interviews and discussion groups were analysed using qualitative analytical software, which made it possible to produce 'mind-maps' that graphically illustrated the patterns identified and views expressed. These results were used to challenge, validate and extend the quantitative results of the questionnaire survey.

The interviews and discussion groups were comprised of IFAD staff and a number of external partners (Investment Centre of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the Rome office of UNOPS). A complementary questionnaire was designed and completed by a sample of 15 NGOs working closely with IFAD in 12 different countries (representing all IFAD's operational regions). The results of this questionnaire provided additional information about partners' perceptions of IFAD's innovation capabilities. The overall results obtained from the analysis were compared with the reference model database, and examples of good practice were used in the formulation of recommendations on how to strengthen innovative capabilities within IFAD.

The six innovation domains used to analyse organizational drivers of and blockages to innovations were: direction; capability; culture; learning; structure and processes; and decision-making. These are briefly defined as follows:

  • Direction refers to the attributes required for senior managers if they are to support innovation; the ability of the organization to direct innovative capabilities in such a way as to enhance the organization's strategic advantage; and the ability to manage change.
  • Capability refers to the quality and motivation of key people within the organization; the existence of a range of 'hard' (e.g. systems, equipment, investments, etc.) and 'soft' (human-based skill sets) competencies; and the ability to implement innovation initiatives (task management).
  • Culture includes the extent to which individuals are 'empowered' to take initiatives, motivated to innovate and supported by relevant training; the extent to which senior management expect staff to be innovative; and the degree to which people feel 'engaged' in the goals of the organization.
  • Learning means the extent to which continuous structured learning occurs, acquiring multiple perspectives takes place and the distance of learning relationships with partner organizations. It tests the use and effectiveness of training in the organization. Areas examined here included teamwork and problem-solving; how knowledge is captured and shared; the degree of experimentation that takes place; the potential for divergent views to be explored; and how the organization keeps track of state-of-the-art knowledge in this field.
  • Structure and processes address the extent to which the structure of the organization supports innovation and to which processes and routines facilitate innovation. It also examines the roles of 'champions' (those who drive ideas and initiatives) and 'sponsors', and the degree to which various stages of the 'innovation process' are managed.
  • Decision-making. This involves the extent of sound but daring decision processes backed up by appropriate information systems and risk-management techniques. It also includes the development of 'conceptual road maps' (e.g. poverty-reduction approaches and philosophies) and the extent to which they are at the cutting edge of the relevant field.

Is IFAD an innovative organization? The results indicate that IFAD's capability to be a wellspring of innovation is under threat. The scores from the quantitative study show that IFAD compares poorly with a wide cross-section of organizations that have been reviewed using this approach (IFAD scored in the bottom 10%). The evaluation shows that while the Fund has numerous strengths and potential as a catalytic innovative organization that should be built on, there are also many hindering factors that need to be addressed.

IFAD's organizational strengths. Overall, IFAD staff is highly committed to the organization's mandate and to the search for innovative solutions. They are also convinced of the essential role that IFAD can and should play in promoting replicable innovation for poverty reduction. The organization's willingness and potential to be innovative have been confirmed through the positive views of field partners regarding its innovative capacity and potential. Despite numerous constraints, as a general rule IFAD's fieldwork tends to be innovative and some of it was scaled up. IFAD's existing instruments have an untapped potential for innovation. The commitment of its governing bodies and senior management to innovation (as illustrated by the request for this evaluation) is also an indicative strength for further enhancement of innovations. In addition, IFAD's diversified partnerships offer many valuable opportunities for strengthening the organization's role in innovation.

Organizational blockages to innovation. Despite the foregoing, there are significant blockages to innovation at the organizational level. According to the staff, the Fund has been innovative in the field 'despite the organization'. A number of these blockages may have been identified by previous studies undertaken or commissioned by IFAD, but the evaluation found that they had not been fully addressed or alleviated by recent efforts to bring about process improvement. These blockages, as per staff perceptions, are summarized below.

  • No clear institutional direction for innovation. The strategic planning was not seen as setting an agenda for innovation, and IFAD was described as lacking a clear innovation vision. Staff feels that core values have been obscured, intellectual leadership has not been respected and a pressure for project approval drives the organization. IFAD's leaders have not promoted change and they are not in tune with the organization's reputation for adopting participatory, community-driven approaches to development. Communication between senior managers and staff was judged to be extremely limited.
  • Insufficient capability to innovate (lack of innovation-related skills and competencies). As an organization, IFAD was not seen as being innovative or as conducive to innovation: rather, it was seen as being indifferent because innovation-specific competencies in individuals were not systemically sought, developed, encouraged or assessed. The availability of resources required for innovation were seen as patchy, and no priority was given to innovative activities. Note was taken of the absence of skills needed for the scaling up and replication of successful innovations. A significant dichotomy in innovative behaviour was observed between field and headquarters activities.
  • Organizational culture does not support innovation. The data suggests that the Fund's overall organizational culture constitutes a significant blockage to innovation. While some staff (e.g. country portfolio managers) appear to use considerable discretion in the way they operate, the style adopted by some members of senior management was not seen as empowering staff to take innovative initiatives. In the past, management was thought to have been increasingly elitist and image-conscious, which is not conducive to innovative behaviour. Innovation is not systematically expected - as evidenced by the individual performance planning and appraisal system (IPS), which does not encourage innovation. IFAD was thought to be less responsive than before to individuals who champion new ideas; managers do not sufficiently sponsor and support such champions. There are no rewards for innovation and initiative and the incentive framework for innovation is inadequate. Staff perceived two different sets of values: creativity and innovations versus the project approval culture. The latter was seen as driving the organization as IFAD appeared to focus on projects rather than on innovation, replication and scaling up. Some staff felt that, in the period reviewed, the organization was being driven towards a corporate model that rewarded formality and discouraged creativity. There was a strong sense of frustration and alienation from headquarters, especially among senior professional staff.
  • Little learning and sharing of knowledge on innovation. Although some effort is being made to improve the situation, especially with regard to knowledge management, significant gaps still exist, particularly in structured learning, training, knowledge recording and sharing, teamwork and the extent of allowed experimentation, and divergence of views. Difficulties (due to a lack of time) in keeping up with state-of-the-art knowledge in the field of rural poverty alleviation also give rise to concern. Although there was evidence that many individuals and teams seek to acquire and explore new ideas, it was also clear that the search was still too limited and that there were differences between what went on in the field and what happened in Rome.
  • Inadequate structure and processes to promote innovation. From an innovation perspective, IFAD's organizational structure has some strength - particularly in its ability to support potentially innovative field projects. However, that structure does not adequately support systematic innovation and the dissemination and replication of proven ideas. With regard to the Fund's ability to manage the innovation process, positive elements have been observed in activities such as identifying, selecting, experimenting and delivering innovations. However, these activities often remain unconnected rather than forming a well-defined, coherent process integrated into IFAD's main structure. Furthermore, activities relating to marketing ideas outside IFAD for the purpose of scaling them up are either not sufficiently developed or are totally lacking.
  • Decision-making and conceptual road maps. One of IFAD's strengths is to be found in its development of conceptual road maps to guide operations, although some suggest that this is more rooted in the past than in the present. Decision-making processes are, however, more problematic as they are required to cope with two conflicting pulls: (i) being a prudent lender; and (ii) providing resources for experimentation, dissemination and promotion of new ideas and their scaling up. At present the pull towards being a prudent lender is apparently stronger than that of being an innovation leader. A great deal of information and ideas are generated by those involved with IFAD projects, but the link with decision-making was thought to be weak.

Partners' perception of innovations - NGOs and Rome-based cooperating agencies.2 The NGOs' perception of IFAD's capabilities and leadership in innovation was much more positive than that of the Fund's own staff and Rome-based cooperating agencies, in that they generally classified IFAD as being innovative 'to a great extent'. They praised the Fund's participatory style of innovation, its ability to involve partners in improving operations, influence others in terms of poverty reduction and support innovative approaches. IFAD was urged to provide further support to building up the capacity of NGOs.

IFAD is viewed by some of its design partners as a rigid, conservative institution with limited innovations. The Fund is perceived as an organization that is tied to rhetoric and slow to adopt ideas; that follows United Nations development fads and buzz words; that is more geared to getting its projects approved; and whose culture hides errors and values cosmetics over substance. It was also suggested that the background of many IFAD professional staff did not prepare them for risk-taking and innovation; and that they were hampered by their workloads and driven by accountability to their line managers, rather than by the search for new ideas and commitment to improvement.

Implementation partners argued that scouting for an innovation is best done at the implementation stage and that resources should be allocated to this effect. The implementation process (through M&E and supervision) should be clearly mandated to report on such scouting and monitor and evaluate it on a systematic basis, and adequate resources should be allocated for this purpose. Innovative ideas mentioned in implementation reports are not often picked up: these reports are often skimmed over because of time constraints and other work pressures. The current lack of supervising agency involvement in the design process decreases the potential of internalizing context-specific innovative approaches.

Back to Top

Summary of main conclusions and recommendations

Main conclusions

The Fund shows promise of a potential niche and strength in promoting replicable innovation for rural poverty alleviation. IFAD's main, but not only, innovation role can be viewed as scouting for, identifying and mediating promising innovative approaches or technologies. As such, together with its partners, the Fund facilitates, promotes and disseminates innovations for rural poverty reduction that are identified from various sources for subsequent scaling up and replication by larger partners, by other IFAD projects and by the poor themselves. Partial testing of innovations for performance improvement and validation can also be done with IFAD instruments.

The successful innovation approaches promoted by IFAD are those that are based on a more structured and conscious innovation process, with clear sequential stages that build on the traditional knowledge of the poor, their culture, social norms and resource constraints and that produce fairly rapid results. Commitment, capacity and flexibility on the part of IFAD and its partners are also crucial factors in such success.

While innovations have been central to IFAD's vision, the institution still has no strategic agenda for innovations to guide and direct operations. That being the case, IFAD staff has diverse understandings of innovation, and performance in this area varies greatly. The innovation process is neither well understood nor firmly integrated into operations. Innovations promoted by IFAD are not systematically recorded and assessed nor is there a coherent mechanism to generate and disseminate learning from these innovations. The five geographic regions of IFAD have a different emphasis on and interest in innovation.

The innovative quality of IFAD's operations has been commended by some of its NGO partners. However, many IFAD staff members and some of the organization's Rome-based partners see its promotion of replicable innovation as hampered by a general lack of support in its organizational culture, structures and processes. There is a feeling among IFAD staff that the organizational environment is not conducive to innovative behaviour and that it does not provide an adequate incentive framework for innovation. According to staff, the Fund has been able to innovate in the field 'despite the organization'. Needless to say, innovation in such an environment is more difficult, less effective, and less systematic than it could and should be.

IFAD performs its poverty-related innovation role in a partnership context at all stages, but the limited capacity and willingness of partners is a major handicap to implementing innovative approaches. So far, the Fund has not put sufficient emphasis on the identification of innovative and capable actors and institutions in its member countries and the development of strategic alliances and partnerships with them to support the promotion and scaling up of innovations.

IFAD has no specific instruments to promote innovations. It uses the instruments at its disposal to discharge its mandate for promoting innovations. Each instrument has its own strengths and potential in this respect as well as weaknesses that need to be addressed. With no strategic guidance on innovation or adequate internalization of the innovation process, IFAD projects have promoted innovations on a sporadic and case-by-case basis. TA grants can play an important role in identifying and testing innovations for adaptation and promotion by IFAD projects, but this role is yet to be fully developed.3 Nevertheless, positive results have been achieved in spite of constraints on identifying innovation during design, capacity limitations during implementation and, above all, the lack of synchronization in the use of various instruments with respect to promoting innovations. M&E has not so far performed its risk-reduction and knowledge-generation role in view of weaknesses in project-based M&E both for grants and loan projects.

Staff noted that some IFAD cooperating institutions and executing agencies prove to be weak links in the implementation of project innovations, mainly because of resource and capacity constraints. Providing guidance to major partners and increasing IFAD's involvement both in supervision and in supporting innovative activities, particularly during the early stages of project implementation, may help to redress this problem.

Innovation poses another problem for IFAD due to the risk-averse nature of the poor. Since innovation is risky in principle, the better-off, more educated and less risk-averse rural people are likely to be - initially at least - more interested than those who are poorer and with fewer livelihood options. In part, this problem may be resolved through the aforementioned facilitation approach to innovation and by encouraging innovation based on the improvement of indigenous and locally based technologies and approaches.


On the basis of the aforementioned analysis, the evaluation mission formulated a set of recommendations aimed at building up institutional strength and, at the same time, removing obstacles to innovation. The following is a summary of these recommendations.

  • Define innovations for IFAD. Based on extensive in-house discussion with the CLP and other staff members, the evaluation recommends the following definition of innovation:

    "Innovation is a process through which IFAD, together with its partners, provides improved and replicable ways to deal with development problems/opportunities faced by the rural poor in a specific context, and promotes their scaling up."

  • Ascertain strategic commitment to innovations. If IFAD is indeed committed to promoting replicable innovation it must give clear directions to its staff in this respect. The first step would be to reflect this priority in the evolving medium-term strategic framework. The next would be to identify specific areas that reflect main innovation requirements for institutional emphasis in the medium-term and use them to direct operations. To operationalize this commitment, it is essential to develop a link between strategy and the allocation of resources for innovation. The link between strategy and resources can be made directly through increased allocations of funds to innovation within grants and loans, and indirectly, in a variety of functions and activities such as human resources management and training, strategic partnerships for scaling up innovations and systems for information and knowledge management on innovation.
  • Understanding the stages of the innovation process and integrating them into current operations. As explained earlier, the innovation process needs to be understood at the institutional level and integrated into the institution's current operations. This would help sharpen the focus of operations on replicable innovations and on scaling up. The exact stages of the process may be flexible and adapted according to the specificity of each case. In principle, the required integration would imply the following:

    (i) greater emphasis on scouting for and selecting innovation for promotion both at the early design stage and during implementation;
    (ii) selecting design partners with innovation orientation and skills, and reviewing the practice for hiring consultants and for mission composition in order to ensure full support to the entry and quality of innovations;
    (iii) earlier and improved analysis of innovation risk and of the capacity of partners to implement both loan and grant projects;
    (iv) systematic focus on the testing of innovations prior to promotion;
    (v) systematic inclusion of rural communication support components (information, motivation, training), when innovation directly targets the rural poor;
    (vi) enhancement of project M&E, and particularly participatory monitoring of innovative approaches and constant feedback; and
    (vii) inclusion of the replication and scaling up of innovations as an integral part of the project cycle and ensuring the appropriate advance planning for this purpose.

  • Alignment between organization processes and innovation promotion. The alignment between organization and processes should be increased, on the one hand, and replicable innovation and scaling up should be promoted on the other. This can be addressed, in part, through:

    (i) Prioritizing innovation as a central criterion in the assessment of grant and loan proposals. This would include reviews of innovative activities by the Project Development Team, Technical Review Committee and PD portfolio reviews.
    (ii) Synchronizing the use of IFAD instruments based on the requirements of the innovation processes involved. This would imply improved innovation focus of IFAD/NGO ECP grants and TA grants for agriculture research and training and strengthening their links with each other and with projects to form a more continuous innovation pipeline.
    (iii) Investigating options for introducing specific instruments to promote innovation.
    (iv) Reconfiguring partnerships to match the requirements of the innovation process (e.g. partnering with NGOs/CBOs in scouting for innovation and with governments, IFIs and other donors for replication and scaling up) and the development of effective models of partnership for scaling up innovations.
    (v) Promoting the scaling up of innovations into IFAD's core business through appropriate marketing skills.
    (vi) Strengthening innovation knowledge management, sharing and dissemination. The Fund should start by learning more from its ongoing innovation experience and keeping a record of the innovations promoted and associated lessons. This might be supported through supervision and M&E of field innovations and regular reporting. Analysis and dissemination of this knowledge in a user-friendly manner, both internally and externally, also calls for priority attention on the part of IFAD.
    (vii) Strengthening external evaluation of innovative features for learning, with specific emphasis on innovation in the evaluation work programme.

  • Build up skills and competencies for innovation. The paucity of skills and competencies related to the identification, promotion and replication of innovation is linked to the way staff are selected, trained and rewarded. IFAD does not pay enough attention to recruiting staff with innovation skills. Moreover, it has not yet developed innovation competencies and does not really reward innovators. The Fund should develop an IFAD-specific innovation competency model that identifies the new knowledge and skills needed, and use the model for recruiting, training, appraising, rewarding and coaching. In addition, a reassessment of the role of the human resource management function in IFAD is required to help reorient it towards supporting innovation.
  • Reorient IFAD's culture towards promoting innovation as part of its catalytic role. The distance identified in the past between senior management and staff has been exacerbated by the perception of different cultures existing between people at IFAD headquarters in Rome and those with operational responsibilities in the field. Headquarters was seen both as formal and non-conducive to innovation and as promoting corporate management approaches that were remote from work in the field. Managers should empower staff to take initiatives, encourage and 'sponsor' new ideas and 'champions' and become more accessible to staff. The IPS and the organization's incentive structure should both demand innovation and reward it. IFAD should strive to avoid being a project factory but rather an institution that encourages creativity and risk-taking and manages innovation as an integral part of its project cycle. Pursuing the systematic promotion of replicable innovation was identified as an important part of IFAD's catalytic role in the Strategic Framework 2002-2006. This implies that the ultimate aim of any project extends beyond 'direct impact' to achieving replicability and scaling up successful innovative approaches.

1/ The CLP is composed of the Vice President; the Director, OE; one Director from PD; one staff member from the PD front office; two representatives of the Technical Advisory Division; five representatives of PD Regional Divisions; the focal point for the Knowledge Management Coordinating Unit; one representative from the Economic Policy and Resource Strategy Department (ED); the Coordinator, NGO Unit (ED); and the Senior Evaluation Officer in charge of the evaluation.

2/ UNOPS/Rome and FAO/Investment Centre.

3/ The evaluation of the TA grants programme for agricultural research currently ongoing by OE and the completed (2000) evaluation of the IFAD/NGO ECP will contribute to the development of an IFAD policy in this respect.