By Simon Mercer
In my last blog post I was brimming with anticipation as I prepared to head out to Kyrgyzstan to undertake a Closed Project Evaluation (CPE) of two Darwin projects. I promised to report back on my experience and on the key lessons highlighted through the evaluation, so here goes…
The first project I visited, Equitable Access to Pasture Use for Beekeepers in Kyrgyz Republic, was a two year project that finished in 2014, led by Bees for Development in conjunction with two local partners – Rural Development Fund (RDF), and the Northern Republican Association of the Beekeepers of the Kyrgyz Republic. The project aimed to help beekeepers create viable and sustainable livelihoods by improving access and use rights to contested pastures, leading to poverty alleviation, conflict mitigation, and contributing to biodiversity maintenance.
So what do we actually do on these evaluations?
Well for this project the evaluation kicked off in Bishkek, the capital, with meetings with the key local partner, RDF. Interviews were then held with all relevant government and national level stakeholders, before heading out to the Chon-Kemin valley to meet local project beneficiaries. A wide range of local stakeholders were then consulted, from government officials to representatives of key local institutions. Focus groups with pasture users and grant beneficiaries were also held to help gauge project impacts. Participatory ranking exercises formed a key part of these discussions and helped to uncover the relative importance of project outcomes in the eyes of its main beneficiaries.
For the second project I reviewed the work also started in Bishkek. This was a two year Post Project, ‘Participatory Management and Sustainable Use of Walnut-fruit Forests in Kyrgyzstan,’ designed to consolidate and advance the legacy of an earlier Darwin project. The project was led by Fauna and Flora International, in partnership with NGO Bioresurs, the Juniper Forest Development Foundation (JFDF), and FFI Kyrgyzstan. It aimed to take forward practical collaborative actions identified in the precursor project, to deliver conservation, promote sustainable use, diversify and develop sustainable livelihoods, and contribute to poverty reduction.
Having spoken to key stakeholders based in Bishkek I took a short flight over the mountains to Osh, Kyrgyzstan’s second city and home to the largest statue of Lenin I have ever seen! From there we travelled to Kyzyl-Unkur and then on to Kara Alma, to conduct semi-structured interviews with project beneficiaries who had used seed funding to establish small businesses. The interviews drew on a series of open ended questions designed to ensure that beneficiaries felt at ease and were able to express their thoughts about the project in their own words. A really diverse range of initiatives had been funded across the two project sites, ranging from fence making, to bakeries, to beekeeping.
Overall both projects were found to have had positive impacts on biodiversity and poverty reduction.
A particular highlight of the Bees project was its sustainability. The project established a small grants fund to ensure that local beneficiaries were able to pass on the benefits from this intervention. For example, original participants committed to pass on bee families and hives, to the value of 70% of their original loan, to new beneficiaries who signed up to be part of the fund. In doing so this new institution intends to ensure that the biodiversity and poverty benefits of the project will continue to be rolled out in the Chon-Kemin valley.
In the second project, micro grants were also provided to beneficiaries at the two project sites with interesting results. Since the completion of the Darwin project, the 11 jamaats (community-based organisations founded to implement the project’s livelihoods initiatives) visited had gone from strength to strength. All were still operating successfully with a wide range of biodiversity benefits highlighted by those I met, including reduced demand for wood sourced from the surrounding forests, and the creation of a number of fast growing woodlots. Poverty benefits, particularly relating to increased income, were also identified; some beneficiaries had even gone on to employ additional staff and begun to diversify their income streams.
A number of important lessons of relevance to both projects were identified through this CPE. The evaluation highlighted, for example, the importance of projects ensuring that they have a strong monitoring and evaluation framework in place from the outset. Where this is the case projects are not only better able to monitor and improve performance, they are more easily able to gather the data they need to be able to demonstrate their successes.
The assistance and engagement provided by the project partners in Kyrgyzstan during this evaluation trip was very much appreciated and was central to the success of this fieldwork. CPEs are designed to capture lessons learnt through project implementation that are of relevance to, and can be shared with, the wider Darwin community. More detailed results of this evaluation will be published in the coming months on the Darwin Initiative website. In the meantime keep a look out for a learning note that will be produced capturing the key lessons learnt from this evaluation.