IAs of under-evaluated areas of CGIAR research - inception workshop at IFPRI

Mar 2016

An inception workshop was held on March 10, 2016 at IFPRI for four studies funded under SIAC activity 3.3 (under-evaluated areas of CGIAR research): (1) alternate wetting and drying, Philippines; (2) agroforestry, Kenya; (3) brachiaria grass, Colombia; and (4) forest co-management, Guinea (more information on the project page and the events page). The methodological challenge underlying all these studies is that the interventions (under assessment) have been ‘out there’ for a while or have been adopted at a large-scale. As is the norm with SPIA inception workshops, this was structured to provide detailed feedback on each of the studies, and also convey to the proponents the kind of information SPIA is looking for (thematically). Without going into the details of each study, below are some of the more interesting issues/suggestions that came up and is relevant to IAs of such research areas.

Both the Kenya and Guinea study will rely on remote sensing images to construct a baseline and examine environmental indicators (forest cover, land use etc.). However, in the absence of baseline data at the household level, both teams intend to construct a baseline of time invariant variables as well as those that can be easily recalled (household surveys): a question that remains open and will need to be examined through survey piloting/literature reviews is what these variables might be. One can think of household structure and occupation as something that may be easy to recall subject to a clear definition of what a ‘household’ is and what constitutes an ‘occupation’. Researchers have also used community participatory processes to construct movement of households into/out of poverty (see Anirudh Krishna for instance).

An issue for both the AWD and brachiaria grass study is spatial impacts: in case of AWD, one can anticipate that there will be differential impacts on upstream and downstream farmers (sharing a water source for irrigating rice fields) and that downstream farmers have more to gain (anecdotal evidence suggests that they are more willing to pay irrigation service fee in areas with AWD – taken as an indirect indicator of benefits). Since this study is a randomized experiment and there the number of TSAGs (the unit of random assignment) is a limiting factor, one can only stratify up to a certain point and use the data to say something about differential impacts with confidence. In the case of brachiaria grass, the impact on land use could be in either direction: does improved productivity of pastures reduce the demand for land and therefore deforestation rates? Even in a case where reduced deforestation is observed, it may be a small, indirect effect – e.g. if land frontiers were already closed or if the grass is only one component of the feed system. In both case studies, there is also the question of soil health: AWD requires a period of drying between irrigation cycles without yield penalty, and the claim for brachiaria grasses is that it is more productive (higher amount of crude protein and increased availability of green matter for livestock). Then, are the crops taking more out of the soil in terms of nutrients with implications for sustainability in the long run? Farmer behavior will vary, including their decisions on inputs but this general question is worth asking. Another question the AWD researchers will put substantial thought into is defining the boundaries of adoption and monitoring compliance, even in a case where an irrigation association or its subsidiary (a TSAG) will be randomly assigned to AWD (or not). For instance, what is the risk of a farmer or a group of farmers with access to irrigation valves at the TSAG level violating the wetting/drying approach?

As these studies progress we will post updates, particularly on any innovative methodological and data collection approaches. However, if you have examples of studies (surveys) that respond to the measurement issues we have raised, please do let us know!

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