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.
Eight civil works packages under national competitive bidding were procured successfully using Viet Nam's e-procurement system. All the e-procured packages achieved high efficiency with an average of 50 days end-to-end procurement time. However, there were only one or two bids per package. This may be because of the new procurement procedure but may also reflect small contract values (less than $1 million per contract).
All the works contracts under this project were supervised by consulting engineers appointed to ensure that detailed engineering designs were followed, and contractors’ claims were legitimate. However, the supervision of some subprojects was insufficient to ensure timely completion and handover of fully operational, quality works. Of note were (i) a nonfunctioning pressurized piped irrigation system in Cu M’Gar, Dak Lak; and (ii) a poorly constructed irrigation system in Ea Soup, Dak Lak.
During the completion review field visits, it was observed that irrigation facilities are better maintained than low-volume rural roads. This is because budget allocations to irrigation management companies provide for a minimum level of service and people are engaged on a part-time basis to maintain canals and keep gates in operating condition. In the case of low volume rural roads, not only are commune funds more limited than provincial sources, the institutional structure to maintain alignments is also inadequate. As a result, commune people’s committees often engage voluntary groups (youth or women’s associations) to carry out basic maintenance and vegetation control at a scale that requires mechanical intervention. Without a formal organization and institutional arrangement to do the job, the maintenance of rural roads is often left undone or done too late.
With the tremendous pressure on Viet Nam’s provincial administrations to achieve economic development, investments have tended to prioritize the expansion of PRI with designs that are often based on outdated standards and cost norms. Irrigation and road designs thus typically result in lower capacity with structural weaknesses, consequently requiring repair and/or upgrade shortly after commissioning. For example, significant periodic maintenance was required for the subprojects in Buon Tria–Buon Triet communes of Lak district within just 2 years after commissioning. However, due to the limited revenue generation capacity of provincial governments, it is not always possible to meet the operation and maintenance (O&M) costs of the project assets. Given this, it is of great importance that PRI design standards adequately address current risk factors, particularly under expected climate change scenarios and the changing land-use patterns.
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.
Functional linkage of dams and discharge channels is crucial for effective flood control. Rehabilitating nonproject reservoirs inclusive of the discharge channels below the reservoir dams is necessary to mitigate flood impact. A dam and discharge channels below it need to be designed and managed as an integrated hydraulic system. For a similar project in the future, the full scope should be explicitly specified at the design stage, even though future projects might be covered by domestic funds.
Institutional capacity for social safeguards implementation and data management needs to be strengthened.
Adequate O&M budgets should be secured in the province to make the rehabilitated and other reservoirs and facilities sustainable. Strengthening O&M capacity is necessary to develop preventive measures and provide robust preparedness for disaster risks.
The project reservoir rehabilitation and management model need to be customized to suit the reservoir requirements of other provinces. Sharing the model and project experience will allow other provinces to utilize the model as a best reference and customize it to their own conditions. This would be useful for them in developing their own site-specific plans.
The number of projects and subprojects to be implemented under any assistance package must consider the absorptive capacity of local contractors, availability of construction materials, and local labor. Close attention must be given to the quality of the facilities and infrastructures built. Utilizing local contractors and labor have their trade-offs, such as implementation delays and deficiency in financial resources, but the quality of the completed facilities is nonnegotiable. This would require closer supervision, frequent monitoring, and faster processing of payments.
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.
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.
For example, ascertaining the extent of flexibility on procurement procedures, including the use of consultants and financing guidelines for government agencies, are vital considerations in a post-disaster reconstruction project. This is important especially when multiple government ministries and implementing agencies are involved in the implementation of key infrastructure components.
Post-disaster recovery requires strong institutions developed through staff trainings on managerial, technical, and administrative aspects. Enhanced capacity of agencies is crucial to better manage financing and to maintain project outputs. Thus, strengthening their capacities on the ground needs to be built early on to help enhance their responsiveness during post-disaster recovery periods.