We are approaching exciting times as we are getting the first full set of results from all the M&E tools employed in N2Africa from Ghana and Nigeria. Not long after, East-Central Africa will harvest and provide data, while the Southern Africa region will harvest their legume crops in April/May. Although some information may come available during the season, most of it is collated after the season has ended.
We work from the idea that N2Africa is a development to research project in which dissemination and development are the core of the project, M&E provides the learning and the research within the project analyses and feeds back into the D&D (see Figure). In a way, M&E connects D&D and research.
We have defined 39 indicators that are being monitored in the implementation of the N2Africa project. These indicators cover the wide range of project research and development activities and may be categorized as follows:
- Global synthetic indicators (e.g. income);
- Indicators on supply-side (e.g. number of farmers receiving inputs from N2Africa through partners, number of training events);
- Indicators on use of components (e.g. number of farmers using improved varieties);
- Indicators on the results of the use of the components (e.g. number of farmers increasing acreage planted to legumes);
- Supply channel indicators (e.g. number of channels which supply inoculants to farmers);
- Policy (e.g. identification of changes in policies toward access of smallholder farmers to legume seed and inoculants);
- Impact indicators at scientific level (e.g. number of improved rhizobial strains identified);
- Indicators related to agronomy trials (e.g. number of recommendations developed for D&D);
- Indicators on impact at capacity building (e.g. number of extension staff trained);
- Other impact (e.g. media events).
Some of the indicators have uniform data collection tools, other information may be gathered by calling upon a few key people (e.g. country coordinators are well aware of the capacity building of students within the project and are supplying that information which will then be updated twice a year). Although quite a few of these indicators are numerical, the tools to collect the information ensure that we are also collecting more qualitative information and all tools are gendr sensitive. For example, while we count the number of field days organized in a country, we are also collecting collect information on the participants such as their age (or age group), gender, subjects dealt with on the field day, the costs and what lessons can be learned from that particular field day.
Apart from the data collection that can be considered to be quite ‘routine’, staff from N2Africa and partners in Ghana and Nigeria have for the first time implemented the Field Book for Technology Evaluation as well as the Use Survey for Progressing N2Africa Farmers. The Field Book has been adjusted from what has been used within the CIALCA project in countries like RD Congo and Rwanda. The Field Book allows us to collect a lot more information from a sample of at least 300 farmers in each country, this covers the diversity of environments in which farmers work much better than the agronomy trials which can only be implemented in a limited number of sites. In this way, these farmers’ fields become part of agronomic research and we are creating much stronger linkages between research and D&D.
The Use Survey follows up on farmers who have been previously involved in activities within the N2Africa project to see whether these farmers continue with the newly introduced techniques, new varieties, etc. A farm household is only considered an ‘adopter’ if, for three seasons, it uses at least two of the N2Africa components, one of which is directly tied to agronomic management. Components could include new variety, additional legume, fertilizer, inoculants, improved agronomic practices. So while it is too early to begin to count adopters, the use survey allows us to begin to track the use of the technologies by farmers. The data from the Field Book and Use Survey from Ghana is at present being analysed in Wageningen by Linus Franke, who is assisted by Marcel Lubbers. There has been a delay in the preparation of data from Nigeria, due to the challenging circumstances. The staff in Nigeria is however working very hard to make the data available.
The data from the Field Book from Ghana showed widespread responses of groundnut and cowpea to P fertilisers. The addition of P fertiliser and inoculants to soybean led to a large average yield increase (28%) but the variability in responses between farmers was large and the reasons behind this need to be further analysed when soil and rain data from the sites become available. The data also stressed the importance of planting time. Planting soybean or groundnut after mid-July gave considerably lower yields than planting in early July. On-time distribution of inputs to farmers by the D&D team is thus absolutely essential to achieve good yields in on-farm trials, and this needs further attention in the coming season.
Apart from data collection, it has become clear that the entry of data collected at country level requires quite some organisation as well. We do however see quick improvements and at first glance the quality of the data from Ghana is good. Now it is up to us to quickly organise and analyse the data and provide meaningful feedback to the country teams to ensure the learning. In addition, we will assess the feedback on the implementation of the M&E tools: was it too much or doable, which were the main bottlenecks, how can we make it even easier, etc.
We would like to encourage all people working with N2Africa to think of new ways of monitoring and evaluating our progress. We have a robust system in place, but this should act as a basis and is not the end in itself. The more different and innovative ways we can think of to evaluate and improve our learning and impact the better. More news to follow soon!
Judith de Wolf & Linus Franke