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.
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.
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.
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.
Also, the executing and implementing agencies should understand and comply with implementation guidelines in the PAM.
When subprojects are distributed across a wide area, lengthy travel to monitor subproject sites is needed.
It offers an opportunity to understand the local socioeconomic and ecological conditions surrounding the livelihoods and needs of the people. This creates effective solutions for biodiversity conservation and wetlands protection. Thus, the inclusion of natural resource users (e.g., farmers) is an essential step to ensuring that local knowledge is integrated into project planning and designing. The project experience shows that the engagement of local communities has increased the level of local ownership and participation during implementation which, over time, may make the project more sustainable.
A well developed monitoring and evaluation mechanism that would appropriately track the project status permits the timely implementation of project operation. Since project performance rating is one of the outputs of the monitoring and evaluation system, it periodically informs management on any potential risk in portfolio performance. The established monitoring system to track the project commitments and progress would serve in strengthening the quality of implementation and project delivery.
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.