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’s use of contracting out as a new approach to the delivery of support services proved successful. It was relevant, effective, efficient, and benefits were mostly sustained. The contracting approach has improved the access of smallholder farmers to agricultural support services and has strengthened the institutional capacities of the national and provincial DALs and support services providers in implementing contractual service delivery. The approach has gained acceptance with and beyond the project stakeholders. Other provinces and development agencies have already replicated the support services provider model.
Prior to the pilot project, agricultural service provision suffered from bureaucratic delays that were not appropriate to the seasonal and market requirements for agricultural development. The trust fund modality allowed an accountable and responsive mechanism that is being continued and valued by the provincial DALs and service providers.
The PRAP process was widely accepted by the targeted population. It was an effective mechanism for identifying required services but also served to identify local development needs. These included the formation of producer groups for higher level production, consolidation, and marketing. In addition, it led to broader economic support by local leaders for other requirements such as infrastructure and access to inputs. The demand-driven approach to planning identified important elements of success that were not originally in the project design; for instance, the demand for training proved to be a mixture of technical and financial training.
This evaluation identified that post-project impact included additional benefits that had emerged from the catalytic effect of the pilot project’s initiatives. The introduction of a contracting mechanism generated capacity within the provincial government to engage more with the private sector. This resulted in other initiatives such as trade fairs for local producers, use of service providers for other agriculture sector activities, and use of improved recruitment processes in other sectors. For service providers, many had not considered use of their skills within the private sector for service provision, e.g., past provincial DAL officers, lead farmers, etc. The opportunities under the pilot project led them to start a new enterprise, marketing their skills both independently and through the SSPA. For individual farmers, the training, particularly in post-harvest and enterprise skills, led to participants expanding and diversifying their economic activities for both agricultural and non-agricultural enterprises.
The success of the pilot project approach provides a means to improve access to agricultural support services across PNG. More could have been done to capture the learning from the pilot activities and extend them nationwide in PNG. With replication of the pilot project and further devolution to provincial and district DAL's institutions, programs, and budgets, there is potential to improve agricultural quality, quantity, and local economic development. In this regard, the government needs to consider whether to take a strategic approach to private sector involvement in agriculture by adopting the project’s approach in all provinces and districts as was proposed in the NADP, or whether the lessons learned will remain within the pilot provinces.
Although it seems self-evident, this fundamental lesson is often overlooked and needs to be reiterated. Community involvement in planning and responsibility for O&M is a practical and cost-effective way of managing such small-scale systems. The government-enabled community ownership and capacity building approach employed by the project will be useful in other efforts to scale up agricultural development, for example in improving rural health, water supply and sanitation, and education. The project demonstrated that community mobilization combined with sustained agricultural extension services can deliver both higher rice yields and expanded irrigation areas through communities’ substantial and long-term commitment.
Sustainable O&M that guarantees water provision is an incentive for farmers to remain members of WUAs. Farmers tend to withdraw from WUAs if their fields do not receive adequate water flows. Without water delivery to their fields, there was no incentive for farmers to work on land conversion and therefore some refused to invest their resources in converting undeveloped land to paddy fields, which would have increased the irrigated area under the project. Farmers’ willingness to pay for irrigation services is affected if they cannot get adequate water flows to their fields, and if irrigation facilities damaged by extreme weather events are not expeditiously repaired by the government. The government’s response capacity for post-completion maintenance needs to improve by allocating adequate funds systematically.
Frequent damage to irrigation facilities caused by flooding and landslides is a big threat to the sustainability of infrastructure improvements. Considering the poor watershed management in the areas surrounding subprojects and incompatible land uses (e.g., hilly land corn farming above the irrigated rice fields), the construction of irrigation infrastructure needs to improve. Preventive and protective measures need to be taken to guard against recurring intense rainfalls and extreme weather events. Such measures could take account of environmental risks and ecological accidents and apply watershed management approaches. This would build long-term climate resilience, supporting the government’s Agriculture Development Strategy to 2025 and Vision 2030.
For greater effectiveness of the monitoring and evaluation framework of the project, the overall logic and results chains as well as indicators need to be firmly established and tested before project effectiveness. Three main aspects can be improved: (a) project attribution needs to be addressed in the methodologies used for collecting indicator data, (b) measuring the degree of infrastructure use by beneficiaries provides more accurate information of the project’s results than focusing on physical progress in construction, and (c) the development results of capacity building activities are better assessed through measurement of the degree of behavior change of beneficiaries.
The sustainability of rural infrastructure interventions, mainly rural roads and irrigation schemes relies heavily on securing funds for their proper O&M. Existing reliance on ad hoc government transfers to cover O&M expenses should evolve into user-paid fees to guarantee the proper functioning of the infrastructure during its expected lifetime.
Sector projects of a multisectoral nature face the risk of having implementation problems and achieving lower than expected development outcomes. Additional work at project design needs to identify and establish clear rules about the types of investments that are eligible for financing, ensuring that these contribute to the project’s stated outcomes. At implementation, a close communication of the rules for investment is critical to avoid delays stemming from extensive revisions to proposed investment plans.