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Improved and sustained productivity of Afghan farming systems in water scarce environments through adaptive research

 

The Afghanistan Agricultural Research for Development Program comprised three research projects and was funded by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).  It ran from July 2012 to Dec 2018.  This Final Review of the Program was undertaken by a three-person team between August and October 2018.

Program Relevance: Score 5

 

  • The program aligned well with key Afghanistan Government policy and was especially relevant to the newly drafted Dryland Agriculture Policy and the associated Dryland Farming Strategy.
  • The program was also a key investment of Australia’s Aid Investment Plan 2015-2018.
  • The integration of the three separately designed projects into a single program was not altogether successful.  Program oversight, management, reporting and assessment have been enhanced by the integration, however more could have been done to facilitate the strategic and learning linkages between the three projects.
  • The major benefit of the clustering was the improved appreciation by next users (which in this case includes Government, communities and civil society organisations) of the “tool box” of options that are available for local farming systems.


Program Impact: Score 4

 

  • The importance of research for development work is found less in its immediate impacts, and more in its provision of a fertile foundation from which future development investments can grow.
  • All three projects have successfully introduced logical and relevant technological options:
    • 30 new high yielding field crop varieties were released by MAIL;
    • The release of improved, disease resistant, high performing crop and forage varieties is no longer the constraint that it once was on improved production in Afghanistan;
    • Water conservation practices have been enhanced, and water conservation structures and other water productivity improvements have been developed and installed in 8 model watersheds.
  • While results clearly indicate an interest in adoption, the evidence of actual adoption is mixed.
    • For Wheat and Maize, primary adoption has been promising (particularly for the irrigated wheat), with end-line and DNA surveys indicating that adoption of post-2002 varieties has increased markedly over the past six years.
    • For new forages, many more years of work will be needed before sufficient seed is available to widely test the adoption process.
    • While Integrated Catchment Management models are available, there is little understanding of household adoption of conservation practices.
    • Overall, the approach taken to understand adoption pathways has been disappointing given that this is an adaptive research program.
  • Capacity improvements amongst government and other project stakeholders has been solid.  The longer running Wheat and Maize interventions demonstrate MAIL’s capacity to assume professional capacity over time.  For ICM and Forages, this process is in its early stages with some way to go.
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Program Effectiveness: Score 4

 

  • The Wheat and Maize project has achieved its planned activities and end of project outcomes.
  • The success of Wheat and Maize has been largely enabled by the strong CIMMYT/ARIA partnership, with its established understanding of roles and expectations.
  • The ICM and Forages projects have made significant progress, but have underperformed in a number of (well explained) areas.

Program Efficiency: Score 4

  • Security concerns in Afghanistan have significantly constrained program efficiency and the rise in violent attacks during the program’s life has led both ICARDA and CIMMYT to restrict their full-time international presence in Afghanistan.
  • Even so, CIMMYT and ICARDA have been able to operate in the country in a way that other ‘international’ collaborators could not have done.
  • The use of annual third-country meetings has been a compromise that has allowed the teams to productively interact with the international stakeholders in ways that would not otherwise have been possible.
  • Staff churn within both the project teams and MAIL has been an ongoing issue that has led to inconsistent delivery and relationships.

Program Inclusivity: Score 3

 

  • The program has had limited success in its approach to gender inclusivity.
  • The primary challenge lay within the teams themselves (the implementing agencies and their local partners) due to engrained norms and values.
  • There is a significant need for attitudinal changes if the national research agenda is to benefit from a more nuanced and articulate approach to gender.
  • The approach taken by the Forages project has been refreshing.  The gender study led by KIT, identified both the challenges women face, and the opportunities they have to create space in which innovate, and to influence adoption decisions.


Program Sustainability: Score 3

 

  • While MAIL/ARIA systems and processes around wheat and maize research are now well established, the inherently more complex systems associated with the ICM and Forages work need ongoing support and close coordination.
  • MAIL needs to expand its on-the-ground partnerships and innovatively enhance these in future.  The variety of mechanisms used by the R4D Program give some indication of what is possible e.g. the Wheat and Maize ‘hubs’, ICM’s engagement with the WUAs and the CDCs, and Forage’s NGO partnerships with local NGOs.
  • The prevailing perception within MAIL of a linear approach to research, development and extension is neither helpful nor in line with best-practice.  A more effective approach occurs when extension and research professionals form part of the same multi-disciplinary team from the very beginning.