The project implemented an integrated model to agricultural productivity growth, combining infrastructure development with the institutional development of farmer organizations and capacity development of farmers. Strengthening of the farmer professional associations and water users’ associations has provided the institutional mechanism for farmers to take over the operation and maintenance responsibility for small project facilities, including applying the cost-recovery scheme with the user-pay principle. Regular trainings to farmers in integrated pest management, soil testing and balanced fertilization application, water-saving technologies, and marketing, enhanced their productivity skills and capacities, making it more likely for income benefits to be sustained across time. Along with the participatory approach to infrastructure management, continued income increases will foster the sustainability of the project.
This project supported the comprehensive agricultural development (CAD) program of the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) government to enhance national food security and employed a holistic approach to address common sector issues. It covered six provinces and 68 counties and consolidated county activities into provincial subprojects by applying a single integrated CAD model in all the counties. The project lending modality enabled the consolidation of the large number of activities scattered across six provinces into six provincial subprojects. However, it required the processing of an unusually large number of contracts (657), which was helped by the preparation and use of standardized bidding documents. Reporting requirements, including on safeguards were streamlined, and an integrated management information system was set up at the State Office for Comprehensive Agricultural Development. Adoption of a uniform integrated model and streamlining of procurement and reporting processes proved instrumental in the project’s success.
The impact and outcome indicators identified in this project’s original design and monitoring framework, i.e., absolute increases in grain output and farm income at the impact level, and yield growth and irrigation water use efficiency at the outcome level, comprised results that were attributable to many factors other than the project. While the comparison of indicators between the project and non-project areas in the provinces supported the positive impacts of the project, it was not possible to isolate the project’s impact from the other factors without baseline information and a precise definition of control group. In addition to well-defined indicators, future projects should also clearly define the baseline and control groups and monitor and assess impacts through periodic sample surveys to reliably evaluate their performance and contributions to changes across time and at project completion.
Various trainings were given to the executing and implementing agencies in water supply and wastewater treatment operations. Aside from training, emphasis on developing the institutions, such as review of the overall organization structures and terms of reference of management and staff, would be helpful in further strengthening the EA and IAs. The creation of the Tianjin Water Affairs Bureau can be regarded as a first step in overseeing the continued development of water-related IAs to focus efforts in building capacity in operational areas needed for the city’s development. Furthermore, it is also acknowledged that the commercialization of operations, through TCEPC involvement, is also another step in institutional strengthening.
Historically, resettlement implemented for the Yuqiao Reservoir occurred in three phases: 1960–1967, 1973, and 1979–1982. It was complex. Delays in the implementation of the resettlement subcomponent of this project could have been mitigated if lessons from the past have been taken into account. This included having closer consultation and ensuring that resettlement impact is better communicated with local officials, village committees and affected peoples, proposing reasonable resettlement or fishpond removal scope and compensation policies. The villagers would then be able to better understand the objectives and importance of projects, and would be more receptive to the resultant land acquisition and resettlement activities.
The Yuqiao Reservoir subcomponent involved environment improvements to 68 villages. For such community-based subcomponents, community participation and self-management are effective gateways into sustainable implementation and operation. For similar projects, a community participation and self-management booklet should be prepared by villagers under the guidance of the social specialist at the project preparatory or implementation stage.
The eventual full participation of Tianjin Capital Environmental Protection Company (TCEPC) in component A was a good demonstration of private sector participation, particularly in bringing about the required expertise in running a wastewater treatment plant. Aside from the Beicang wastewater treatment plant, TCEPC is also responsible for the operations of three other large-scale wastewater treatment plants in Tianjin. Prospects of private sector participation in component B should have been explored with other private groups or entities, particularly in enhancing ecological works around the Yuqiao Reservoir, which is currently financed by municipal funds. This could be a showcase to invite interest from private enterprises, particularly in the growing concern for the environment.
During appraisal, one of the benefits identified from the project was to provide employment opportunities to women through the All-China Women’s Federation. At the project’s completion, it was mentioned that women were employed as laborers during construction, and some were given permanent jobs in the IAs. Moreover, there were training opportunities given for skills enhancement. Given the focus on the growing role of women in development, gender equality is inevitably mentioned in ADB projects. Emphasis on gender depends on the context and locale conditions.
Sewerage construction needs to be fully addressed in the early stage of the project, particularly as it affects the implementation of wastewater treatment operations. Further to this, when the two are implemented by different funding institutions, the need for inter-donor coordination is essential to ensure that project operations and targeted completion are not compromised.
Such an integrated approach includes protection of upstream water sources, watersheds, rivers and other water bodies, and includes but is not limited to (i) alleviating risk of pollutant contamination from point and non-point sources of pollution; (ii) treating wastewater before discharge into such water bodies; (iii) monitoring and analyzing water quality; (iv) developing alternative sources of water supply; (v) setting up an institutional framework and strengthening the institutions; and (vi) establishing a regulatory framework that provides the right incentives for implementation of such measures. The success achieved by the project and the progress made so far in improving the Songhua River’s water quality (eventually, the project facilities and the Songhua could jointly supply urban Harbin with good-quality water) attests to the benefits of such a comprehensive approach.
If tariff income falls short of requirements (assuming normative operational efficiencies), government support is required. However, as ADB may not be in a position to influence water tariff levels and structures, ADB should review the merits of including tariff setting-related covenants in the loan and project agreements, or seeking assurances on this matter.
The project became effective on 7 January 2004, nearly 1 year after the group company was registered with the HMG’s Commercial and Industrial Bureau on 24 January 2003.
Delegation of implementation responsibility to the resident mission at an early stage of the project cycle is also good practice, provided locally recruited staff have sufficient familiarity with ADB operational and procurement procedures.
In evaluating project ownership, attention must be given during appraisal not only to investment planning priorities but also to whether counterpart funding has been committed, key staff are in place, coordination mechanisms across and within different government levels are working effectively, and an institutional capacity exists to address social and environmental issues affecting the project’s long-term sustainability.
To achieve this goal, funding needs to be committed before loan approval to ensure that such issues will be addressed during implementation, and independent monitoring mechanisms put in place to measure the impact on local communities.
For Asian developing countries with a well developed local capacity in electric power or other infrastructure sectors, partnership with an international consulting firm in the implementation arrangements can be an effective mechanism to enable the transfer of state-of-the-art management and operational practices to national companies and agencies.
The project was able to deliver benefits to the project area through the inclusion of both the provincial highway upgrade and the rural link roads in the project design. The socioeconomic benefits of these roads were very important, allowing all-weather access to jobs and services (health care, transport). Local tourists use the rural roads to travel to scenic areas, a further source of economic development as well as of support for maintaining the environment. The HPDT advised that it is frequently difficult to gain funding for rural roads because they are of lower priority than the expressways and highways, and ADB support for these projects provided valuable social impacts.
This project was the third ADB road project in Heilongjiang (and a fourth is currently underway). The HPDT has extensive experience in road design and construction, knowledge of ADB practices and requirements, and clear boundaries for its responsibilities. Although international practices can be usefully included in projects, they do not always work well in the local context. With nearly 20 years of experience with the ADB now part of the institutional memory of the agencies involved in these projects, it is likely there are well-qualified local resources available to lead the PPTA studies and produce project designs that are streamlined to deliver the project in the local context and in compliance with ADB requirements.
The difference between the budget and actual cost of supervision and training for the project indicates that the project required substantially more supervision than planned. The HPDT attributes this greater cost, at least in part, to the selection of the low-cost bidders for portions of the civil works. The PCR states “four contracts [of the 26] (procured under international competitive bidding) were awarded on an exceptional basis [due to the very low prices] without determining the combination of bids offering the lowest evaluated cost.” Although these contracts were subjected to higher performance securities, such bids rarely include adequate management and contingency budgets. Therefore, to ensure appropriate quality, greater executing agency supervision and monitoring during construction is required. Comparisons of bids on the basis of established provincial reference prices and the expected quality of higher cost bids should be undertaken before contract awarding to ensure low-cost bidders can deliver civil works of the appropriate quality. The award process should be strictly followed, with no exceptions being made for the low-cost bids. This is likely to result in a better project implementation process within the expected supervisory budget.
These factors ensured that any actual or potential problems were quickly and effectively resolved.
This continuity, together with stability in personnel capacity, was an important factor in the success of the project. While this lesson may be self-evident, it is not easily achieved and is often overlooked.
Knowledge of the project design and implementation that was transferred from ADB to the government was highly valued, and officials expressed the view that this was more important than the loan financing.
The MFF enabled sequential construction and financing requirements that were funded by separate tranches, thus limiting unnecessary duplication of administrative effort and approvals.
Because counterpart government funding was timely, there were no delays and the project was completed early.