John Hugh Weatherhogg

John Hugh Weatherhogg

Agricultural Economist

25 years with the FAO/World Bank Cooperative Programme and the FAO Investment Centre as an Agricultural Economist.

My contributions

    • Very interesting discussion and full marks to Marika for making the distinction between reporting and communicating. There is plenty of reporting, but little communicating, in the same way that there are plenty of lessons but not much learning.

      In an ideal world perhaps the solution should be to say that no one was to have a hand in project preparation and design until they have done at least five years of M&E.

      As it is, in this imperfect world, it is almost inevitable that the jelly will always fall off the plate and never reaches project designers.

      Why is this? Well, for starters, in projects for agricultural/rural development lasting around five years by the time the Project Completion Report (PCR) or Implementation Completion Report (ICR) or Implementation Completion and Results Report (ICRR) comes out in, say, Year 7, all the cast who were involved in project design have moved on or disappeared.

      Others have already mentioned that M&E pumps, but there is no tube directly connecting what M&E produces with those involved in project design and implementation. Funding agencies have tried to cover this deficieny by periodically publishing collections of lessons learned from PCRs (or ICRs or ICRRs). In order to make these relevant to the general reader the lessons are so boiled down as to appear almost banal, such as "Lack of ownership and legitimacy for project outputs /outcomes caused by lack of adequate stakeholder participation / representation" (… ).

      Such groanings do not make exciting reading. Moreover they are unlikely to carry much weight with highly motivated project designers or managers whose motto is all too often "I did it my way"

      As if all this was not enough there are the various political pressures in government to skew project design in one direction or another; particular polcy ideas or fashions on the part of the funding agency and occasionally the impact of Messianic staff or consultants projecting their own miracle cures.

      The result of all this is that little if any attention is paid to past experience and often the same mistakes are made over and over again - such as:

      -  assuming that all government agencies will cooperate without individual funding - when it is very clear that no budget, no activity or collaboration.

      -  including project items that require legislation - promised on Day1 but may take over 5 years.

      -  "strengthening" the project by sending many staff off for training - just when they are most needed.

      -  insuring all will go well by having some luminary imported project manager, who for a number of reasons only arrives in Year 3 

      -  expecting project staff to make regular visits to remote project sites - when government insists severe control of travel costs.

      -  project activities both complex and extensive in area - when main constraint is project management capacity. 

      One further problem is that financing agencies often want to "do something new". For whatever reason it is often decided after a succession of similar projects, just when everything is going smoothly and lessons from earlier project phases are in fact being embodied in later tranches of lending that the financing institution FI moves away and any linkage between M&E and project design is thereby broken.

      In trying to answer the three questions I think the onus should be on the project designers/implementers to do due diligence before getting into project design to see what lessons have been learned from previous operations - it is for them to dig up the PCRs, ICRs and ICRRs and try to incorporate the findings in the new project's design.. 


    • Dear Colleagues,

                Very many thanks for taking the time to respond and for sending your comments and experience.

                Needless to say, I had hoped to hear of some successful experience involving a university, but perhaps that was unrealistic optimism.

                The comments from Lewis N. Kisuku in the Democratic Republic of the Congo gave a good idea of the situation in that country. The problems described would be common to many countries, both in Africa and elsewhere. His comments on contributions from university staff were in line with those of Isha Miranda from Sri Lanka. Why should the work of universities or their members frequently be characterised as theoretical and their reports as long and often late? Perhaps it is a lack of the commercial sense, a lack of pressure and the fatal desire for perfection.

                Very good to hear a positive and happy result from The Gambia sent by Paul L. Mendy.  This seems to show what can be done with close collaboration between local consultants and staff of the financing agency.

                The basic problem and starting point is how to acquire good data. This should be a local responsibility, not undertaken through a few hurried visits by an international specialist who has just flown in.

                If the data is locally collected how can it be assured to be impartial, unbiased and objective? There are likely to be pressures to both under and over report results. Also, there will be a temptation for enumerators to dream up results for project participants not on their farms but in some road-side coffee shop. Pressures to “enhance” or modify the results and the subsequent evaluation will continue up to and beyond the delivery of the evaluation report to the financing agency. It is clearly difficult for a private commercial company or individual to resist all these pressures – and much easier for an institution. 

                Let us hope that as a result of the increase in pressure for local involvement in evaluation as a result of Covid there could be more interest from universities.

                Such an interest would be good for evaluation as well as very good for the universities and their students.

                Many thanks again for taking part in the discussion.

      John Weatherhogg  

    • Apologies if the following is already very well known. Possibly the best possible entry point for helping women in  rural situations is drinking water projects. In most countries collection of drinking water for the family is women's traditional responsibility. When a drinking water investment project is implemented thought has to be given to maintenance. This often means formation of a women's group to collect the small amounts of money required to maintain the pump/well/pipeline. This can then develop into a small savings and loans operation or other economic activity. This sort of arrangement worked well with the watershed rehabilitation projects financed by the World Bank in India 20-25 years ago. The inclusion of the drinking water component was a major contributing factor to the overall project success. For this reason i firmly beliieve it is always preferable to have drinking water as a component of a larger rural development project rather than self standing water projects which tragically miss the chance of more general economic development.

    •  We talk about the role of evaluation, but what evaluations do we have?  For example for agriculture and fishery training institutions how many studies can we find of the number of students trained who actually went back onto farms or into fishing?   Generally no such studies are ever made. On visits to several such institutes only isolated examples could be given of students who had gone back to farming/fishing. Training specialists assure me that this is normal. As soon as trainees have a piece of paper such as an end of training certificate they are off. It is not only the bright lights of the city and the excitement of seeking their fortune but also escaping from what is often a claustrophobic, conservative environment, repetitive toil and absolute poverty.

      The decline in numbers of younger people in rural areas in one sense is an opportunity. Land still needs to be cultivated and the only way to do it - since farms are small - is by sharing or use of contract services. In Thailand you see plenty of activity in land preparation, harvesting and rice milling all done by small contractors, mainly or most often youngsters. Where there are credit services offering hire-purchase agreements for acquiring machinery this can be a great opportunity for youth and provides an attractive career.

      In the longer term there is probably not much hope, or need, to re-mould the current public perception of agricultural pursuits. Food producers have suffered from a very long period of decline in real value of commodities. Similarly urban consumers have seen a steady fall in food costs as a proportion of the total cost of living. More recently and particularly in the commodity price spikes of 2008 and 2011 cereals and other food commodities have tended to move in harmony with crude oil prices – to which they are linked as a result of uses such as production of alcohol and bio-diesel. This could be a sign of hope for fairer prices for farmers in the future and consequently a better balance between prosperity in rural and urban areas.