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.
The project suffered from project readiness issues that resulted in significant cost overruns and delays. While ideally these would be captured before project approval, if they are not, it is imperative that identified flaws are acted on as soon as possible during implementation to allow for course correction. In particular, the reluctance of farmers to repay investment costs provided from ADB financing should have been identified much sooner than 4 years into implementation by conducting willingness-to-pay surveys or through similar means. Similarly, the uncertainty over crop yield baselines and the causal link between the project activities and crop yields (as opposed to between the activities and the increase in the crop area) could have been captured earlier and reflected in the midterm review.
In this case, the farms achieved more efficient drainage through the project, but the project did not pay enough attention to ensuring the prudent use of water. Overwatering is still practiced by farmers, exacerbating the inefficient transfer of water from sources to farms (40% reported water loss). A parallel project from a development partner or a government program that focused on irrigation efficiency, agricultural extension services, better seed quality, and other inputs would likely have yielded a wider range of benefits than is possible through a single subsector approach. This is particularly the case in the project area, given the projected impacts that climate change is expected to have on the Amu Darya River Basin. When irrigation becomes more efficient, the water savings could be allocated to environmental projects such as supporting the rehabilitation of the Aral Sea and allowing flows to smaller wetlands and salt lakes in the region to improve habitats and attract international tourism.
The project supported the enhancement of the GIS capabilities of the Hydrogeological Melioration Expeditions (HGMEs), primarily through the GEF grant. Local HGMEs have benefited from the institutional capacity building provided through the project. Through the use of GIS, they are able to map drainage and irrigation infrastructure and facilities in the project areas, to support their O&M planning and implementation.
The new sector reform strategy seeks to reduce farm quotas, support other high-value crops (including horticulture), and introduce more resource-efficient agricultural methods (e.g., drip irrigation). While enabling policies and strategies may help bring about modern agriculture practices, it is also imperative that the benefits that have been achieved through traditional interventions such as the Land Improvement Project are sustained.
Some of this project’s target beneficiaries could not form water management cooperative associations (WMCAs). This caused their subprojects to be left out even if these were technically feasible. Formation of WMCAs was a precondition for approval of subprojects. An alternative modality for special circumstances could have been considered.
While the advance account was useful, there was a case of ineligible expenditures that had to be refunded. A delay in refunding the unliquidated advance also delayed the accounts closing. This could have been averted had the liquidation been made ahead of project closing. More attention to EA financial management is essential to the smooth and timely closing of project accounts.
The sustainability of the improved irrigation systems and enhanced crop production that they support would depend on routine maintenance to keep the schemes in good condition and ensure that farmers are supplied with irrigation in a timely manner. Adequate resources are needed to carry out these maintenance tasks, either at the WUA or system and department levels. Rising farm incomes resulting from the project suggest that farmers could contribute more to meeting maintenance costs through water taxes. Continued monitoring and guidance to WUAs to ensure payment of these taxes, coupled with policy dialogue to advocate updating of state O&M allocations to the level recommended by the latest national finance commission report, will support the attainment of adequate O&M funding. Ensuring the implementation of DOWR’s commitment to complete unfinished civil works and remedy the deficiencies noted by WUAs should also be the subject of continuing policy dialogue.
Besides having an overly complicated DMF, the project design, at completion, was also considered overambitious given the capacity of the Department of Water Resources (DOWR), the executing agency. For example, the DOWR lacked qualified staff in non-engineering/multifunctional disciplines such as agriculture, fisheries, horticulture, and social development, which were necessary to achieve the project’s targets to strengthen and provide agricultural and livelihood support to water user associations (WUAs). The wide-ranging institutional and policy reforms entailed by the water sector road map and the project framework also required strong DOWR leadership which became wanting during implementation due to changes in high-level officials. Adjustments to address capacity gaps prevented serious deficiencies in the delivery of outputs; nevertheless, it would be important to thoroughly assess EA institutional capacity during the preparation phase to ensure that the project is within EA capacity to implement. Upfront EA capacity building during project preparation in key areas such as procurement and contract management may also be considered to avoid startup delays.
This project, together with the Orissa Integrated Irrigated Agriculture and Water Management Investment Program of which it was a part, was designed under a project preparatory technical assistance (PPTA) grant. The PPTA produced the essential strategy papers and guidance documents to facilitate project implementation. However, while the project design was generally appropriate to achieve the intended outcomes, the design and monitoring framework (DMF) was overly complicated, with no baselines and means of measurement for some indicators. These deficiencies may be due to the lack of a comprehensive and thorough assessment of the irrigation systems to be rehabilitated. Especially if such systems are already dated, a rigorous technical assessment should be undertaken to provide the basis for improvements. A better DMF and benefit monitoring system, with well-defined indicators, baselines and measurable targets, will also help improve project results.
The project steering committee, responsible for overseeing and monitoring all aspects of project implementation, was established at project commencement. It reviewed and approved subprojects but did not fulfill other requirements and had little involvement in implementation monitoring and supervision. Not all quarterly reports had been submitted, and the quality often inadequate for the purpose of full monitoring. Reporting on the indicators in the design and monitoring framework was extremely lacking. Serious deficiencies in the quality and regularity of project reports prevented timely and appropriate interventions to address potential and actual problems. Future projects should ensure that mechanisms are in place for necessary data gathering and monitoring and that loan covenants on project performance monitoring and evaluation are complied with.
ADB and the executing and implementing agencies must ensure that adequately skilled and experienced consultants are fielded to provide the inputs required for effective project design and implementation. The Report and Recommendation of the President, the project proposal document, explicitly noted that, based on experience in emergency assistance projects in the Pacific, adequate consultant support would be particularly important for disbursements. Nonetheless, the consultants engaged for the project design proved to be inexperienced and not suitable for the task. Given the weak capacity environment of Fiji and the high cost of providing consultancy services in the Pacific, the consultant selection process must be robust. Executing and implementing agencies need to check candidate references. The use of quality-and cost-based selection procedure, which may have discouraged some of the more experienced and better suited candidates to bid for consultancy assignments in this project, should be reviewed and analyzed across more projects.
Asian Development Bank (ADB) disaster response operations often involve executing and implementing agencies with limited capacity even before or due to the impacts of an emergency. The project inception report identified this as an issue facing Fiji’s Ministry of Works, Transport, and Public Utilities, the main implementing agency for the project. Inadequate follow−up was however made on the use of consultants, which was embedded in the project design to address capacity constraints. While shortened, the design and approval process for an emergency response project must rigorously assess the adequacy of executing and implementing agency capacity and install the necessary measures to address the constraints. Raising institutional awareness of ADB procedures should also be made a part of the project preparation process.