Supporting smallhoder agriculture: what are your experiences in using evaluation?

©FAO/Luis Tato / FAO
©FAO/Luis Tato / FAO

Supporting smallhoder agriculture: what are your experiences in using evaluation?

Dear Community of Practice,

I have been working for nearly 40 years with smallholder farmers and their communities and have witnessed some recurring flaws in projects that aimed at supporting them. Evaluation could help address these flaws if the evaluation questions are the right ones that allow comparing alternative solutions. I am not sure this is always the case and would like to hear your comments and examples:

  • Do you see the same issues repeating across projects targeting smallholder agriculture, and undermining the intended support?
  • Has evaluation helped or not in addressing these issues?

Here a couple of examples I can bring from my side.

One is about oversight in timing requirements in projects aimed to extend small plot research/demonstration results across a field, farm or smallholder community. Bad timing can result in failure of the field operations and delays in crop establishment, for instance because of shortage in labor and in diet restricting the workday that may occur during the time allocated for the project.

Another area where good evaluation questions could steer programs to more effective innovation concerns the emphasis on group enterprises. In a project aimed at promoting cooperatives, the garri processing initiative designed as an income generation activity for a group of women ended up being virtually abandoned. At the same time, just 100 meters across the road there was a woman-managed garri processing operation going at full capacity. A good evaluation would have included questions to non-beneficiaries and their enterprises, which would have shown that individual enterprises have a much higher success rate, and they are more effective in serving a smallholder community than group enterprises. Also, including questions on basic business parameters would show that the overhead costs of cooperative exceeds their financial benefits so relying on cooperatives could easily force the beneficiaries deeper into poverty.

Thanks for sharing your feedback!

Richard Tinsley
Colorado State University