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i-Bulletin 8

i-Bulletin 8

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05/11/2014

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In projects! Agricultural Information Systems projects!

CARICOM countries are no strangers to projects to develop information systems in agriculture. We have had many national, subregional, regional projects; projects managed by Ministries of Agriculture, by development organisations, such as IICA and CARDI, by private sector agencies.

This is the final in the 8bulletin series. The

There have been many! This current effort is just one of many recent initiatives. Its objective is not to solve all the information problems in agriculture in CARICOM. Rather, its objective is to stimulate a new thinking, outside the box even, of how we should approach the issue of building information systems in agriculture in CARICOM. This is especially given the new context for agriculture and the need to think and act in an integrated and systemic manner.

aimed at promoting wider appreciation of information and knowledge management for agricultural development generally and specifically, support for the IICA/CTA project on building a monitoring and evaluation information system - MEAgrISys.

Are we making genuine progress?

Consider this! In 2008, after many, many externally financed projects, needs assessments, and systems we are still listing “lack of information systems” as a major and binding constraint to competitive
and sustainable agriculture in CARICOM. Farmers complain that they are not getting market information quick enough to make good decisions. Policy makers complain that they are not getting information from the private sector to feed the policy process. Many the banks and financial institutions admit that they are getting very little proposals for agricultural credits and loans, and they even if they did, they did not have the ‘information base’ to effectively assess the viability of these proposals.

#8 of 2008
a collaborative effort of: Naitram Ramnanan CaRAPN member and: Diana Francis
Trade Policies and Negotiations Programme IICA Caribbean Region

policy? Is the process backed by strong policy?
‘Lack of national information policy’, ‘limited value placed on information’ and ‘unwillingness to share information’ are often listed
among the major limitations to developing information systems in agriculture in CARICOM. This is aside from the usual constraint of limited technical (human and information technology) capacity. Strong and enabling policy sends a powerful signal. It gives all a sense that the particular issue, target, industry or sector is important. It mobilises individuals to action! It provides a framework for organising institutions, securing resources and implementing projects. Weak, ambiguous or no policy at all, also sends a powerful signal! This matter is not sufficiently important to warrant attention. It can be left up to its own devices or market forces. Is this how we value information generally and specifically, information for agricultural development? Then what have the many successive and often simultaneously implemented information projects hoped to achieve?

enabled by: Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA –ACP)

The Views expressed herein are not necessarily those of the CTA and IICA

Can progress still be made in such an environment?

needs tying information needs to development goals
What is this information? Where is it? Who has it? Why do we need it? How do we get it? What do we do with it?
The IICAIICA-CTA project focused on tying information
development. environmental

needs
These

to

development
are equity,

goals.

Such development goals are embodied the AgRuAgRumatrix framework which forms the base for building a monitoring and evaluation information system to follow-up on progress and to measure impact. It was developed mainly for the hemispheric AGRO Plan 2002-2015. But because of the convergence of development priorities of Caribbean countries, it can be easily applied to track progress and measure impact defines of national key agricultural of policies in and the programmes and regional ones as well. AgRu-matrix three groups are partners sustainable development of agriculture and rural communities. These rural stakeholders, agriculture value chain actors and policy makers. Each of these groups interacts and take actions towards particular objectives. AgRu-matrix defines a set of seven strategic objectives for sustainable

competitiveness, governance,

sustainability,

rural prosperity, food and nutrition security and positioning ‘building’ a new type of information system for sustainable agriculture. The first four of these objectives relate directly to four key dimensions of development – Economic, Ecological, Socio-cultural/Human and Political-Institutional that define the priorities for guiding actions and interactions of the partners. It is these interactions of the 3 partners along the 4 dimensions of development that leads to the definition of 12 Purposes for actions. that the MEAgrISys It is on these 7 macro-level project is providing the strategic objectives and the 12 micro-level purposes framework for building modern information systems in agriculture.

Current national agricultural information systems are not sufficient to provide the information required for planning, measuring progress and monitoring the impact of development actions. The project does not intend to solve all national problems, or address all concerns regarding the weaknesses of agricultural information in the Caribbean. The issues for the project were on building:

appreciation among information professionals, of the need to think outside the box, and see information
in a broader dimension;

awareness among agriculture stakeholders of the value of information and the importance of sharing that
information for the benefit of the ‘agriculture’ system.

synergies synergies among existing interests and capacities on the ground; not re-inventing the wheel. elements of an information system that are practical and mutually-reinforcing to cater to the needs of
sustainable development that links agriculture to quality of life. The system will provide a tool for documenting and monitoring actions, evaluating progress and reporting results and expectations.

At the end, the project hopes to provide: (a) a conceptual framework and methodologies for obtaining
national Experiences and Expectations, (b) a set of common Indicators for measuring progress, and (c) an improved method of reporting.

Pg.2

Making Information Work for Agriculture: Indicators
We often hear about 'declining growth rates', or 'declining shares of agricultural GDP', or 'exports increased by 5%', etc. These conclusions are based on economic indicators that measure the status for a
particular point in time, or change between points in time. An ‘Indicator’ it is like a ‘pointer’ or ‘marker’ for a something, at a point in time that has value and expresses meanings. It is more than a statistic and is based on accepted indicators to measure progress or movement toward a stated goal or target. Indicators are quantitative and must be measurable. Indicators can help countries to track progress, measure performance, identify trouble spots and show-up important trends. This information is part of what is needed to enable policy makers, business and development organisations to redefine goals, realign and monitor strategic actions and adopt further decisions to improve agriculture and rural life at the national, regional and hemispheric levels.
Economic - Macro I: Cell I: promote competitive rural enterprises Position of Agriculture in National Economy; Agricultural Productivity; Trade Dependence and Performance; Ecological - Macro Environmental Sustainability Status and quality of natural resources: water, land, forests, fisheries, Resource Vulnerability and Degradation IV: Cell IV promote competitive rural enterprises Quality and use of natural resources in/ close proximity to rural areas; Community-Based Disaster Management Capacities; Cell V: Integrate chains, foster linkages and enhance productivity Application of sustainable resource management (SRM) principles; Utilisation of Agro-chemicals; Capacity for Risk and Disaster Management in the Chain; Cell V: Promote enabling national policies for competitive business Integration of SRM in Public Policy and Planning; Natural Hazard and Disaster Management and Adaptation to Climate Change; Rural entrepreneurs and Innovative Capacity; Institutional Support; Cell II: Integrate chains, foster linkages and enhance productivity Entrepreneurial Activity and Innovative Capacity; Chain organisation and integration; Private Sector Investment; Cell III: Promote enabling national policies for competitive business Macroeconomic Policy Environment and Institutional Support; Trade Policy Regime and Extent of Openness;

The MEAgrISys project has defined a set of Indicators as the basis for measuring performance in each of the macro objectives (national and sectoral) and each of the Cell Purposes (micro level). The importance of establishing credible and measurable Performance Indicators at the micro level cannot be understated. A sample of a list of variables (main topics) that can be used to determine progress at the macro and micro level, for which Indicators were defined to guide data collection, analysis and reporting is provided for two of the development dimensions, namely Economic (production and trade) and Ecological.

Competitiveness

The MEAgrISys project has defined a set of Indicators as a base for measuring performance in each
of the seven macro objectives and each of the micro purposes as defined by the 12 Cells of the AgRu-matrix, and as illustrated above. Using these indicators, countries and institutions can make more informed decisions on where capacity already exists to collect them and prioritise those in which capacities should be developed.

Pg.3

Making Information Work for Agriculture: Experiences:
All countries take actions necessary to alleviate the constraints to agricultural development. Whether
these actions are undertaken by a Ministry of Agriculture (MoAs), non-governmental organisation (NGO), or producer group, they seek to achieve a particular Purpose. In spite of the numerous actions, by several players in the agriculture-rural continuum, there is very little, in terms of documentation of actions by type, objectives and scope to enable comparative analysis and identification of best practices. Information on such Experiences is important since the challenges encountered in implementation and progress made may hold the key to explaining the state of the Indicators. These Experiences hold the information necessary to explain the rate of progress as measured by the quantitative performance Indicators. ndicators The MEAgrISys project promotes the need to It has been observed, that traditionally, actions in agricultural and rural development tended to focus on production-trade issues, that is, in efforts to increase output, enhance productivity and competitiveness and expand exports. However, even within the production-trade dimension, very few MoAs will have reported actions to ‘promote competitive rural enterprises’ that are not linked to farm production or small scale food processing. Rural development is wider than agriculture, a reality that several Caribbean MoAs are not equipped or positioned to deal with. More recently, there has been a flurry of actions to address the environmental sustainability objectives. This largely due to the growing link between trade and the environment in international standards trade and negotiations, and consequently, the proliferation of environmental regulations, conventions, of which most Caribbean countries are signatory. Hence in more recent times, actions under environmental sustainability have become more common within MoAs. What has been relatively silent in terms of actions spearheaded by, or monitored by MoAs are those that relate to improving the sociocultural-human aspect of development – equity. More often that not, such actions are not associated with agriculture and hence the information is not sought out and integrated into analyses on agriculture and rural development. Defining actions and experiences to improve governance usually centres on developing policy frameworks and/or strengthening farmers/producer organisations. ‘document’ national actions undertaken, not only by MoAs, but also and importantly, by all other major actors, particularly NGOs and producer organisations themselves. It is the collective results of these actions that determine if and how output increases or decreases and the outcome of other objectives measured by quantitative indicators. MEAgrISys also promotes the need to document and integrate this qualitative information on Experiences, with the quantitative information provided by the Indicators. Why? Because documenting actions and challenges provides a basis for comparing the types of actions and approaches used by countries to address specific issues. Having such information in a database can identify potential areas for horizontal cooperation between and among countries on common issues. Is also provides the basis for establishing linkages among national, regional, hemispheric and international actions and sharing of experiences to optimise scare human, financial and institutional resources. An analysis of national experiences can help to identify the pitfalls and define more effective interventions and actions in the future. Particularly, it can be used to show bias, if any, in the type of actions taken in agricultural and rural development.

MEAgrISys promotes the need to collect, sort, store and analyse such national experiences, by each of
AgRu-matrix’s broad strategic objective and sub-purposes to lead to more holistic performance analyses, promotion of success stores and sharing of good practices.

Pg.4

Information Expectations Making Information Work for Agriculture: Expectations
The recent regional debates on agriculture saw opinions such as “agriculture is too risky”, “the

future for agriculture lies in agri-tourism” and “we need agriculture for our food security”. While
these opinions may be based on the particular stakeholder’s perception of past and current situation and views of the future, they reflect an expectation. Expectations drive actions. And if they are largely negative towards agriculture, then the majority of actions undertaken will be in non-agriculture activities. A stark example of is how in Expectations financial impact sector. business development projects among unemployed rural youth maybe substantially different from the expectations of these same rural youth, who may not be inclined towards the same type of small business that the Policy maker had in mind. It is sometimes the ‘discrepancy’ in expectations on a similar issue among the different players in the system that makes or breaks a project towards a development objective. These views and perceptions of key actors/players can be obtained through feedback mechanisms, such as, surveys and questionnaire, designed to determine opinions and ‘hints’ of what to expect on a particular issue. Expectations differ among the main categories of stakeholders in the agriculture-rural community continuum. These differences in expectations arise from educational achievements, exposure to outside influences, access to information and level of involvement in decision-making etc. Hence the As far as possible, such feedback mechanisms must be specific and clear in terms of the objective of the questioning and simple to fill in. A sample of target and issue specific survey is provided. The only way such information can be obtained and analyzed for use in policy and project decision making is to obtain feedback from all participants. Often times, such feedback mechanisms come a part of a post-project evaluation to determine ‘what went

decision-making

the

Agriculture is perceived as too risky, and hence there is an expectation on the part of financial institutions that loans to agriculture will under-perform. Hence the majority of commercial banks do not include agricultural loans in their portfolio.

wrong’.

expectation of a policy maker with respect to small

The MEAgrISys system advocates the need to institutionalize feedback mechanisms into information systems that seek to explain the situation and performance of agriculture. Pg.5

Projects! Moving forward with Information Projects!
Agricultural Knowledge and Information Systems are as important and necessary to sustainable agricultural development, as is technology and finance. Any decision made in agriculture, at any and all
levels, use information and by using information, also generates information to be used. The issue then becomes, do we have systems in place to value, capture, store, integrate and analyse the information such that it becomes a valuable input into decision making? Not yet, I believe! Are we getting there? Hard to tell! Even with all the various information projects in the Caribbean, information systems development in agriculture is still trying find its way to the top of the priority agenda. We all appreciate that information is important. We all spend time, money and efforts to development information systems in agriculture. One thing that this project experience has illustrated, and none too subtly, is the need for participation and GENUINE partnerships, at ALL levels.

Genuine Partnerships is essential in building a more holistic information system to monitor progress, measure performance and evaluate the end product.
Partnerships will seek to ensure that the:
projects defined work towards a common goal, are practical and useful to most, if not all, the stakeholders; policy environment is in place to place a high value on information of and hence and enhance in sustainability efforts results

information projects; end products of projects will provide a base for the continued development of the system; process must be built on shared roles and responsibilities of all major actors, including Details on AgRu-matrix as the base for MEAgrISys can be found on www.carapn.net, or by emailing , your request to Diana.Francis@iica.int the MoAs, development organizations and the ‘stakeholders’ themselves. These roles will however differ based on the mandates and scope of decision-making and actions.

The expectation of having a perfect information system from the start as a precondition to institutionalize the M&E process in agriculture and rural life is neither practical nor prudent! This effort so far, has and continues to be a learning process in how to build an information base and capacity to enable comprehensive and continuous monitoring, evaluation and feedback on the impact of policies, programmes and actions on agricultural and rural development goals in the Caribbean. There must be some minimum information system that establishes a base from which progress can be measures against. The MEAgrISys project offers some progress towards understanding that base from which we can build and benefit, through GENUINE PARTNERSHIPS!

Pg.6

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