The Darwin Initiative Blog

Insights and personal musings from the world of biodiversity conservation and development. For more info on the Darwin Initiative see https://www.gov.uk/government/groups/the-darwin-initiative


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Learning from Monitoring and Evaluation, Darwin Initiative projects in Nepal

by Simon Mercer

In our 1st blog post of 2017 Vicki gave a great account of all of the monitoring activities that keep us busy throughout the year here at LTS. With ever increasing scrutiny of the effectiveness of UK aid spending, the importance of effectively monitoring projects has never been greater. The Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning (MEL) component of the Darwin Initiative and IWT Challenge Fund programme, led by LTS International, uses a range of tools and approaches (outlined in Vicki’s article) to support projects to gather the data they need to demonstrate their impact. At the same time these activities give us the chance to identify and capture lessons on project implementation and design that can be shared across the Darwin community to foster learning.

Towards the end of 2016 I flew out to Nepal to visit two Darwin-funded projects, one based in Kathmandu led by BirdLife International, and the other by Suklaphanta Wildlife Reserve in the Far West of the country, led by the Zoological Society of London. These projects were selected for Mid Term Review (MTR) based on a range of criteria, including the potential for lesson learning, the scope for M&E support, and the organisations involved. Geographical focus was also a really important consideration, as it is vital that we are able to visit more than one project at a time during these visits. This helps to keep costs down and maximises value for money.

In technical terms, MTRs are formative evaluations that follow a rigorous evaluation framework based on the DAC criteria for evaluating development assistance, focused on project effectiveness, impact and sustainability. In practice, these visits are used to assess project progress against its logframe objectives. In addition they provide an important opportunity for us to provide technical support and assistance where needed, and to engage with project teams to influence project implementation. Importantly these visits also offer a great opportunity for lesson learning.

For those of you who are interested in finding out more detail about these recent visits, the full MTR reports will soon be available on the Darwin Website. These reports will provide a detailed technical account of the MTRs including data collection methods, key findings, and recommendations. For those of you who can’t wait for these to be published a selection of key lessons is presented below.

1 – Clear logframes with SMART indicators are vital for demonstrating project progress. This was a clear lesson that emerged from both projects visited, in slightly different ways. The project in Suklaphanta was using its logframe and robust monitoring and evaluation systems to effectively track progress, making sure the project remained on course and adaptive to changing circumstances. This enabled the team to accurately report project progress. The logframe for the BirdLife project was less clear; over the years we have found that the selection of appropriate indicators is a common challenge facing Darwin projects with a strong policy component. These weaknesses in the logframe had led to reporting challenges that suggested that the project may be struggling. The MTR gave an opportunity for some focused logframe and theory of change support. The project was also able to demonstrate that progress to date has been good, the challenge created by the weak logframe was in clearly reporting and communicating this progress.

2 – Engaging partners in project formulation and design brings real benefits. With its focus at the policy level, success for the BirdLife project is dependent on the strength of interaction with Government of Nepal partners. Any risks associated with this have been significantly reduced by involving key government stakeholders right from the start. Whilst the focus of the ZSL project is very different, it has demonstrated similar benefits as a result of early engagement. Partner interactions at the national park level are working well, with different stakeholder groups working efficiently towards a single shared goal.

3 – Darwin projects can achieve more than originally planned. Interacting with other Darwin and non-Darwin projects working on similar issues can enable projects to make savings, leverage additional funding, and broaden their impact. For the BirdLife project, this was evident in the selection of project sites to complement ongoing work by Bird Conservation Nepal, the local BirdLife partner. This has allowed field level activities to get up and running quickly, whilst making sure some of the associated costs can be covered.

For the ZSL project, shared meetings with key local stakeholders including other conservation organisations and donors is allowing knowledge to be effectively shared, new funding sources explored, and impact to be extended to new sites, beyond the original scope of the project.

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Members of women’s cooperative, ZSL Suklaphanta project, Credit: Simon Mercer

A key personal lesson from this latest batch of MTRs is that even in its 25th year, Darwin continues to carry out vital conservation work in the most challenging of contexts, and remains at the cutting edge of conservation thinking. This blog can only provide a snapshot of the achievements and key lessons coming out of the current batch of Darwin projects – remember to keep an eye on the Darwin website for the reports of these and other MTRs.

When you think that there are well over 100 current Main Darwin Projects, and almost 1,000 have been funded since the scheme began, the achievements of the Darwin Initiative are truly staggering. Monitoring and evaluation remains the key tool for projects to demonstrate and provide evidence of these achievements more widely.


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Darwin Projects in Kyrgyzstan 2

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.

Credit - Rural Development Fund

Migratory Beekeepers (Credit – Rural Development Fund)

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.

Credit - Jenny Birch

Walnut Forest (Credit – Jenny Birch)

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.

Credit - L Birchenough-FFI

Credit – L Birchenough-FFI


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What I’ve learnt about the relationship between poverty and biodiversity, part 2…..

Part 1 in this series highlighted the importance of ecosystem differences. In part 2 I discuss some of my recent thoughts on the use of income as an indicator of poverty alleviation…

On 21st October we held an experts meeting in conjunction with Flora and Fauna International and International Institute for Environment and Development about what constitutes good evidence in the context of conservation and poverty alleviation projects. Part of the discussions focussed on how evidence fits within broader project monitoring and evaluation (M&E). Since I’ve been working on the Darwin Initiative we’ve had lots of discussions about strengthening project M&E, so the workshop provided lots of food for thought.

A recent Darwin Initiative briefing paper highlights that indicators are an essential component of any effective M&E system; they provide information to monitor performance, measure achievement and demonstrate accountability. For the Darwin Initiative, indicators are part of the framework for collecting evidence to show how projects have contributed towards poverty and biodiversity.

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Kenya 20-011 Shortages of water means people travelling far distances to fetch water Credit J Bett

Kenya 20-011 Aweer community women representatives prioritizing livelihood options. Credit Nickson Orwa

Kenya 20-011 Aweer community women representatives prioritizing  livelihood options. Credit Nickson Orwa

On the poverty side of things, projects tend to select income as an indicator of poverty alleviation. The thematic review has revealed 2 issues that are worth considering:

  • Increasing household income is difficult to achieve within 3 years (average timeframe of a Darwin Initiative project). It can also be difficult (or expensive) to measure. Also, income may increase but the household is still living in poverty. Linked to this, income does not capture wider wellbeing benefits which are often more tangible in 3 years. For example a recent evaluation in Kenya revealed that one of the benefits the beneficiaries of a project thought were most important was empowerment in particular recognising people’s access rights and supporting people to manage resources. This demonstrates that income is not always an appropriate or relevant indicator for projects to use.
  • Increasing household income may increase environmental degradation and/or have unintended social consequences. Case studies have shown that raising incomes can increase pressure on natural resources, for example if people use income to buy and graze more livestock. At the same time, household income may not benefit all members of the household, if for example it is spent on alcohol or gambling. In such circumstances additional consumption indicators may be needed to monitor how household income is being spent. Participatory methods can provide a useful way to understand how household distribution of income and monitor changes over time.

So when designing projects and selecting indicators, here’s a couple of questions that may be worth thinking about:

Diagram for learning blog_031115

Do you are have any experiences trying to measure income, wellbeing or assets that you can share?

What do you think are good indicators?

Do you have any examples of good indicators?

We’d be keen to hear from you, so let us know what you think.


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Reblog: Your Snow Leopards are Killing our Goats

 “Since you started working here, we’ve lost more livestock than ever. There are too many snow leopards. We don’t need livestock vaccination, we just need you and the cats to go away!”

By Matt Fiechter, Communications Specialist, Snow Leopard Trust

I’m stunned. Speechless. This conversation was supposed to be about how conservationists and herders in northern Pakistan could work together to protect snow leopards, and how that would help everyone. Instead, I’m suddenly forced to defend the cats, myself, and everything we do, as an angry herder levels a series of accusations against me. They’re harsh and relentless, and I’m not sure they’re completely off base.

Kyrgyzstan 22-004 Darwin-Workshop-Ali Credit Snow Leopard Trust

Thankfully, I’m not alone. Dr. Ali Nawaz, the director of the Snow Leopard Foundation Pakistan, comes to my rescue, responding to the herder respectfully, but powerfully. He shares sincere sorrow at the losses of the herders. But then he asks questions. “How many livestock did you lose? Are you sure they were taken by snow leopards? How many animals died from diseases in the same time span?”

Other villagers present at the meeting speak up, admitting that livestock losses may not necessarily have grown from previous years. One herder says he lost a dozen goats to disease last winter, and wants to know more about the vaccination program we mentioned. An elder apologizes for his hotheaded neighbor’s hostility, and asks some critical questions of his own. Slowly, the conversation takes on a more positive, constructive tone. We seem to be making some progress.

Then, the exercise is over. ‘Villagers’ put their conservationist hats back on, and I breathe a sigh of relief that this was only a role-playing session. Time to analyze what happened.

“Community Engagement for Snow Leopard Conservation”, the title of the workshop I’m participating in, sounded slightly abstract two days ago. Now, thanks to a role-playing session on negotiations that allowed me to assume the role of a field conservationist for half an hour, it has become very real and tangible.

Field teams from Kyrgyzstan, India, and Pakistan have come together for this workshop in Kyrgyzstan’s Ala-Archa National Park to discuss best practices, experiences and principles of how to engage with communities that share snow leopard habitat in order to protect the endangered cat.

Kyrgyzstan 22-004 Darwin-Workshop-Ali-Wali-Yasmeen-Charu Credit Snow Leopard Trust

The PARTNERS Principles – Our Approach to Community-Based Conservation

A Darwin Initiative grant has provided this opportunity to get the teams together. The workshop is based on the PARTNERS Principles, an acronym that describes the Snow Leopard Trust’s approach to community based conservation:

  • Presence of the conservationist in the community,
  • Aptness of conservation interventions,
  • Respect for local people,
  • Transparency in interactions,
  • Negotiation,
  • Empathy,
  • Responsiveness,
  • Strategic support.

Social scientist Juliette Young and ecologist Stephen Redpath have worked with Charu Mishra, SLT’s Science and Conservation Director, to design the workshop.

Kyrgyzstan 22-004 Partners Principles Credit Snow Leopard Trust

I’m here to learn from them, and to give inputs on how we can do a better job of communicating about this challenging work with supporters, donors, and friends – on how to bring the stories from the roof of the world into homes across the planet.

I work with the team on the principles of storytelling, on characters, plot, narrative arc, and on theory of change. I show them examples from the likes of Humans of New York or charity:water to demonstrate the powerful impact of great storytelling for a cause.

Kyrgyzstan 22-004 flyingcat Credit Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation Snow Leopard Trust,

Later, as my colleagues from Pakistan, India, and Kyrgyzstan share the stories they’ve experienced in their work, I can sense how they’re trying to employ those principles, and I feel a certain sense of pride that I imagine every teacher knows very well.

However, when we reenact some of those stories in the role-playing session, I’m very much the student, and I’m in way over my head. Looks like I’ve quite a way to go before I could be a successful field conservationist.

I know that many of the people who live in snow leopard habitat are herders, depending on livestock for their livelihoods. I’m aware that to them, the carnivorous cat can be a source of trouble, rather than a valuable species worth saving.

One of the keys of our approach is to partner with these communities and find solutions to conflicts between their interests and those of conservation.

Offsetting losses through livestock insurance schemes is one approach that has worked in many areas.Vaccinating livestock has been a successful strategy as well, particularly in regions where herders were losing more animals to disease than to predation. Generating alternative sources of income, e.g. through selling handicrafts under the Snow Leopard Enterprises label, is another well-received idea.

In all those programs, partner communities agree to protect snow leopards and wild prey species in their area from hunting or retaliation killings, while we provide the means and training to improve their livelihoods.

From a distance, these programs seem like easy win-wins.

What I wasn’t fully aware of – but learned the hard way in the exercise on ’negotiating with communities’ – is howthings can be a lot more complicated than they seem.

Kyrgyzstan 22-004 Darwin-Workshop-Hussain Credit Snow Leopard Trust“I’ve been received by some communities like a dear friend, while others met me with outright hostility”, explains Hussain Ali, a senior research associate in our Pakistan program, and the man who, a few minutes ago, so convincingly mimed the angry herder in our role-play session. “I was trying to be relatively nice to you”, he says with a smile.

As a researcher, Hussain often spends several weeks ‘embedded’ in a community – eating, praying, and talking with the locals. “Over time, a mutual trust usually develops” he says, “but in the beginning, it can be tough!”

Marginalized Communities Bear the Brunt of Conservation

“We shouldn’t be surprised by those challenges. Many of these rural communities are marginalized economically and politically, and at the same time, they bear the brunt of conservation”, explains Dr. Charu Mishra, who leads the Community Engagement workshop. “It’s up to us as conservationists to find ways to build relationships and share the costs of protecting wildlife with these people.”

The workshop was designed to help field teams cope with these challenges, develop their confidence in community engagements, and build strong, mutually beneficial partnerships with the communities they work with.

“Like every human relationship, community partnerships require empathy, respect, honesty and a lot of time,” Charu says.

There are no set rules to engaging with communities, and each village, each family, each person, is different. But in the PARTNERS document that Charu has developed from the collective experience of our field teams, eight shared principles and best practices are provided that can guide a field conservationist’s work with rural communities:

“For instance, it’s crucial for our work to not only understand the ecological challenges, but also the cultural context of a community. Even as natural scientists, we can’t lose sight of social phenomena; religion, social structures and so on. They can greatly influence attitudes towards wildlife.”

Later, Khurshid Ali Shah, who heads the Snow Leopard Foundation Pakistan’s office in Chitral, will tell a story that’ll perfectly underline Charu’s point.

Kyrgyzstan 22-04 Darwin-Workshop-Khurshid-Yasmeen Credit Snow Leopard Trust

“Once I spent a week in a remote village, trying to get the community’s support for conservation. One day, a highly respected local Muslim religious leader asked me why I was trying to protect snow leopards. He felt that the predator was causing too much damage to the community and should be gotten rid of. I explained to him that I understood my job as that of a guardian of God’s creation, and that I was perhaps sent here because God’s creations were not safe in the area. I told him that I believed we had no right to remove this cat from the world God had given us, and that I felt it was our duty to preserve it. He fell silent, reflected on what I had said, then shook my hand and told me I had his support.”

Being Immersed in Communities

“This story is more than a nice anecdote”, Charu Mishra says. “It shows how important it is to think of cultural contexts. This religious leader would not have been convinced by an economic argument, for instance. But he was open to a spiritual one”

Beyond that, Charu says, the example also demonstrates why it’s crucial to be present in partner communities: “Khurshid had spent several days in this community, eating, sleeping, praying with the people. He earned their trust with his sustained presence, his empathy, and respectful interactions. An outsider, someone who had just arrived the same morning, would perhaps not have been able to win the religious leader’s support.”

Later that day, I suddenly realize why Khurshid’s story impressed me so much.

It perfectly follows all the principles of storytelling that I’ve rambled on about a few days before. It has two memorable characters that find themselves in a situation of conflict, and it has a resolution that’s poetic and powerful. Just the kind of stuff I look for as a communications officer. The next time I hold a training on storytelling, I won’t have to think very hard about a great example.

________________________________

The workshop on community engagement was supported by a grant from the Darwin Initiative. Whitley Fund for Nature has been a long-term supporter of our community-based conservation programs, and the Acacia Conservation Fund provided support for the development of the PARTNERS document. Our Kyrgyzstan team hosted the workshop, and we are especially thankful to Kubanych Jumabay, our Program Director and Cholpon Abasova.

You can read more about this project and its other blog posts here 


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What I’ve learnt about the relationship between poverty and biodiversity….

Part of my job working on the thematic review has been looking at what we can learn from the Darwin Initiative about the relationships between poverty and biodiversity. This has involved reviewing a lot of project documents and reports, talking to project leaders and collecting evidence through focus group discussions in Kenya. At the moment, we are still making sense of all of the data and writing up the final outputs of this thematic review. Whilst this is all being finalised, there are some lessons that I wanted to share. I don’t think they are necessarily ground-breaking, but can be easily forgotten when trying to design projects that address the dual objectives of biodiversity conservation and poverty alleviation. My plan is to write about one lesson at a time, so this is the first instalment.

Sudan 21-019 Sharks&Rays8

Sudanese fisherman Credit Equipe Cousteau

When conducting research we often look for trends or lessons that can be scaled up or generalised across different contexts. Such pursuit can generate valuable insights into the poverty and biodiversity, but at the same time the quest for generalizable trends and lessons must not cloud the lessons we can learn from identifying differences.

…..Differences are important

One of the key success factors in the Kenya projects that we visited as part of the recent evaluation was the speed at which fish stocks were recovering once community-managed closed fishing areas had been implemented. In around 6 months, local fishing communities were noticing differences in both the number of fish, the size of fish, and the diversity of fish species. This observation was also supported by ecological surveys carried out by projects, with support from members of the local communities trained to conduct low-cost ecological surveys.

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Fishing in Rodrigues Credit Uni of Newcastle

Uganda 19-013 the edge of Bwindi Impenetable National Park surrounded by farming land of the local communities. Credit Mariel Harrison

Edge of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest Protected area, Uganda Credit M Harrison

Yet, one of the reoccurring challenges raised by organisations involved in forest projects is that it takes a long time to see or measure changes in biodiversity, even if restricted forest access has been introduced. Forest projects also describe how the time and technical expertise needed to measure changes is often beyond the scope of a 3 year project.

Contrasting these two examples shows how ecosystem characteristics and dynamics influence the rate at which an ecosystem can recover and therefore what kinds of changes a project can expect to see.

Identifying these differences is not to say that we can’t learn lessons. In fact, I think that there’s a high potential for learning. One option could be to better target events, workshops, newsletters, and learning notes on particular ecosystems and then facilitate a dialogue to identify any reoccurring lessons across ecosystems.

It may seem obvious to point out that the characteristics of marine and forest ecosystems are distinctly different. But this can be overlooked when designing projects and setting ambitious targets when the competition for funding is high. However, projects should be realistic about the types of change they can expect to see and carefully select ecosystem-appropriate indicators in order to capture such change.

This is the first in a series of blogs about lesson-learning, so follow the blog to be notified about the next instalment.

In the meantime send me your thoughts and experiences too – jami-dixon@ltsi.co.uk

PNG-15-041-community-Credit  J. Sawyer (2)

Community dancing in Papua New Guinea Credit J Sawyer


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Darwin Projects in Kyrgyzstan

By Simon Mercer

As Jami and Lesley highlighted in previous blogs, the work we do here at the Darwin Initiative is about much more than merely administering UK government funding to conservation and development projects. A key part of our role is to ensure that these projects are carrying out activities as planned, and achieving their intended goals. Are they doing what they said they would, and have they achieved what they claim to have achieved? It’s also about learning. Are there any lessons from these projects that are relevant to other Darwin-funded projects?

Closed project evaluations (CPEs) are an important part of this monitoring and evaluation work. As their name suggests these evaluations take place once projects have been completed, and projects are reviewed against their original proposal and logframe, project reports and products. CPEs follow the DAC criteria for evaluating development assistance and focus on project effectiveness, impact and sustainability. They provide an opportunity for us to examine projects in more details and assess the extent to which they have achieved their intended outcome and contributed to their stated impact. This year they have also given us a chance to gather some extra primary data for the poverty thematic review.

Kyrgystan 19-015 Beekeepers

Later this month I will heading out to Kyrgyzstan to undertake a CPE of two Darwin funded projects.The first project I will be evaluating is Equitable Access to Pasture Use for Beekeepers in Kyrgyz Republic. In Kyrgyzstan beekeeping is an ecologically and potentially economically important activity, however in recent years the number of beekeepers has been falling rapidly. This Darwin project sought to arrest this decline by addressing conflicts with herders, through improved tenure arrangements for beekeepers, enhanced community dialogue and awareness raising activities.

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The second project is a Darwin Post Project that builds upon the earlier work undertaken through project 17-001 to reduce rates of forest loss and degradation in the fruit and nut forests of Kyrgyzstan. The Post Project, led by FFI, focused on the sustainable use of forest resources and enhancing the livelihoods of forest dependent people especially women and poorer households. In doing so it worked to implement the participatory forest management plans drawn up under the earlier project.

At the moment I am reading up on both of the projects, reviewing past reports and background documentation, and liaising with project staff to define the evaluation schedule. I can’t wait to get out into the field, and to have an opportunity to assess first-hand the important work undertaken by these projects. Keep your eyes peeled for future blogs as I’ll be reporting back on the findings of this evaluation, as well as key lessons learnt, once I’m back.


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Illegal vs legal wildlife trade: UK Government launches Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund

KEN07 - lion - Darwin 13-019

The last 2 weeks has seen a lot of coverage of Cecil the Lion’s demise in Zimbabwe. Conservation and hunting have had an uneasy relationship for decades though perhaps what some of the recent uproar may tell us is that the general public were largely unaware of this relationship. . We’re not going to rehash the argument for and against here but here is a good article from Professor David Macdonald, ex-Chair of the Darwin Expert Committee whose tag was on Cecil the Lion.

David has led numerous Darwin projects over the years including this project in Zimbabwe which was looking at offtake levels of Leopards to support the development of a National Leopard Management Strategy. For more details of David’s projects see the Darwin website.

Tanzania-11-007-cheetahs-Credit S.Durant (3)

One issue that was regularly being confused by commentators in the last 2 weeks was the confusion between legal and illegal wildlife trade. Not all wildlife trade is illegal – wild plants and animals from tens of thousands of species are caught and harvested from the wild then sold legitimately as pets, food, ornaments, leather, medicines etc. Legal trade is determined by CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, with parties responsible for controlling all imports, exports and introduction from the sea of species covered by the Convention. This can range from the pretty fish in your aquarium to the leather on your shoes.

Illegal wildlife trade, often discussed as poaching, operates entirely outside of these legal channels. Classic examples are the poaching of elephant tusks for the ivory trade, or the trade in tiger bones for traditional medicine. The bad news is that unlike big game hunting, illegal wildlife trade is pervasive in our society – sometimes even in plain sight as highlighted by recent articles highlighting the volume of ivory that is traded by Ebay.

Kenya-13-019-Bull elephant Darwin-Credit N Leader-Williams

As well as the devastating consequences for biodiversity and the environment, illegal wildlife trade is a serious criminal industry worth billions of pounds, which damages local communities and undermines sustainable development. There is evidence that illegal wildlife trafficking is funding organised crime including terrorism. In 2014, the UN and Interpol released a report that suggested that illegal wildlife trade worth up to $213 billion dollars a year is funding organised crime.

Also in 2014 the UK Government hosted the London Conference which brought together global leaders to discuss and agree ways to help eradicate illegal wildlife trade and better protect key species from the threat of extinction. Progress on these commitments was reviewed at a follow-up Conference in Kasane, Botswana in March 2015.

32 countries plus the EU and 9 international organisations met, and agreed the Kasane Statement. The Statement contains 15 new commitments to action on demand reduction, the legal framework for tackling money laundering linked to the illegal wildlife trade, tougher law enforcement, and involving communities in protecting their wildlife resources.

Recognising the impact illegal wildlife trade has, the UK Government launched the Illegal Wildlife Trade (IWT) Challenge Fund in 2014. This has funded 19 projects around the world, with total funding in the region of £5 million.

Cambodia-EIDPO030-Credit IIED (3)

Given the importance of the subject the UK government has once again announced it will be providing up to £5 million in funding to projects looking to tackle illegal wildlife trade through the Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund. The Fund is open to applications until 12th October.

For more information on what the fund can support see the details here. Some of the funded projects can be viewed here as well.


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Mixing it up: methods for field-based M&E

Kenya 20-017 Kilifi Credit L King

I was in recently in Kenya with Lesley, another member of the Darwin team at LTS, conducting field based monitoring and evaluation (M&E). Although I have been to Kenya before, and travelled throughout East Africa, it was my first time to be at the Kenyan coast. The idea was that as well as supporting Lesley and finding out more about M&E in the Darwin Initiative, we could also use some of the findings for the poverty thematic review that we’re working on.

I was in Kenya for 8 days in total, and mainly focused on a mid-term review of one project. As Lesley’s previous blog post mentioned, the main purpose of these mid-term reviews is:

  • the verification of results
  • obtaining an independent perspective on the projects
  • troubleshooting and supporting projects to reorient themselves

In her blog, Lesley talked generally about what we do and why, so following on from that, I thought that it might be interesting to focus on the methodology that we used during the fieldwork. We often think that it’s the findings of M&E that are important, but I think that there’s lots of interesting lessons that we can learn from having open methodological discussions.

A methodology is basically a system of methods that are used in a particular way or area of study. I particularly enjoy developing methodologies, as I think that they help you think practically about how you are going to conduct a piece of research, however big or small it is. For this particular field-based evaluation we decided to use a range of methods to capture different aspects of the project and to suit the different people we were targeting. For consistency, we used the same approach across the different geographical areas the project was operating in.

 This methodology, informed by the broader evaluation questions, guided the fieldwork:

  • Identifying indicators of coral reef health

I was in Kenya specifically to look at the poverty aspects of a marine project. Little did I know that as well as talking to various people the project had been working with, including local communities, local fisheries officials, this would also involve some snorkelling. As someone who isn’t a particular fan of sea creatures (including fish), I was a little bit apprehensive about the snorkelling part. Luckily, I was with Lesley (a marine expert) and representatives of the community (local experts) who made me feel extremely comfortable, whilst at the same time educating me on indicators of marine ecosystem health. Luckily the majority of the time was spent talking to people, so I felt much more in my comfort zone.

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  • Semi-structured interviews with key informants

Semi-structured interviews are an established tool in conducting evaluations. We used specific evaluation questions to develop a set of questions to act as an interview guide. Questions were left open to encourage participants to elaborate on their responses and explore why respondents were giving particular answers. Such an approach also enabled us to probe on particular issues, whilst at the same time allowing participants to lead the conversations.

We started out with semi-structured interviews with project staff to give us a better idea of how the project worked in practice. A couple of days into the evaluation we also talked to a range of local fisheries officials to understand their level of engagement with the project and their perceptions of how they felt the project was contributing.

Kenya 20-017 Bureni focus group 5 Credit L King

  • Semi-structured focus groups with community members

We followed a similar semi-structured process for focus group discussions with community members. Initially, we held meetings with a couple of community groups to verify information about the project, such as when it started, what the main activities were, and also try to understand how both beneficiaries and non-beneficiaries viewed the project. We also used these discussions to identify what the main benefits and challenges had been so far. In some communities we split the community members into smaller groups to encourage participation.

Kenya 17-016 Wasini BMU 4 Credit L King

  • Participatory ranking

Participatory ranking is a commonly used methodology to better understand the range of views. It is a ‘mixed methods’ approach that generates a rich picture of the participant’s views that can be quantified and compared within and between groups, and act as points of discussion for the collection of qualitative information.

Building on what we’d found out in the community meetings, we developed a participatory ranking exercise. Each individual was given three ‘votes’ to identify which, for them, were the greatest benefits the project had brought them. When participants had completed the ranking exercise, we recorded the voting and then asked a series of questions to help us understand why people had voted for certain things.

Kenya 20-017 theory of change Credit L King

  • Theory of change mapping

We concluded the trip with a final meeting with the project team to share what we’d observed in field and also obtain their input into building a theory of change for the project. The idea of building a theory of change was daunting at first, but after a while the staff got to grips with the process and were able to talk animatedly about how they envisaged the project, how this linked to their activities and identify the associated assumptions.

We selected this particular range of methods because we felt they best suited the questions we were asking and the people we were targeting. This methodology provided us with a systematic way of conducting M&E in this context. Of course this is just one approach, and there are a whole range of methods and other participatory tools that we could have used. Was this the best approach? Well that’s open to debate, so let us know what you think.

Want to know more about our findings? Then follow the blog for updates and keep your eyes peeled on twitter as I will be discussing them in future blogs. @Darwin_Defra


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Field based monitoring and evaluation – what we do and why?

I was in Kenya last week undertaking some field evaluation work for the Darwin Initiative. This blog post is intended to shed some light on what we do during these field trips, what the value is (and to whom) and how we use the material we produce.

The Darwin Initiative has an overarching M&E framework which includes all the standard things such as a Theory of Change and Programme Logframe. In essence what this boils down to is a set of objectives, indicators and assumptions for the programme. Our job, as the M&E contractor is to measure the collective progress of Darwin funded projects against these objectives and test assumptions.

This sounds straightforward until you consider the diversity of projects funded under the Darwin Initiative – both in subject matter and in geography. Each project is collecting and presenting evidence in a myriad of different forms and somehow we need to make sense of it all. Here I’ll talk through what the fieldwork element of our work focuses on.

It serves a number of purposes depending on whether the projects evaluated are ongoing or closed. For ongoing projects the purpose for field evaluation includes:

  • the verification of results
  • obtaining an independent perspective on the projects
  • troubleshooting and supporting projects to reorient themselves

For closed projects fieldwork is more centred around the full Darwin programme than the individual project. The purpose of these activities includes:

  • analysis of evidence to meet a specific programme objective i.e. gender or traditional knowledge etc.
  • an attempt to understand what the legacy is of Darwin funding i.e. what happened next
  • an attempt to understand the collective impact of multiple projects

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We tend to restrict fieldwork to 2 distinct periods – halfway through a project (a Mid Term Review) and after a project has finished (a Closed Project Evaluation).

Most of the time we have 5-7 days with each project depending on logistics. For all projects visited we are driven by what the project has defined as being their measures of success i.e. the project Application Form. This includes the logframe, workplans, methods, team composition etc. We additionally have a Terms of Reference that defines what questions we are looking to answer through the fieldwork. This week my terms of reference centres around 3 questions:

  • What biodiversity benefits has the project achieved?
  • What has the contribution of the project been to poverty alleviation? Poverty should be considered in the context of the MDG’s.
  • What factors have governed the project organisation’s capacity to collect appropriate evidence?

 

Collecting evidence during fieldwork in Uganda, 2013. Photo credit: M Wieland

Collecting evidence during fieldwork in Uganda, 2013. Photo credit: M Wieland

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The methods we use are partially dictated by the types of evidence available from the projects. In most cases however we will also use semi-structured key informant interviews with the project implementers, key stakeholders and beneficiaries of the projects.

We may also undertake focus group sessions that may use methods such as participatory ranking, participatory pairwise ranking, and Most Significant Change.

For most ongoing projects we generally conduct a Theory of Change session at some point during the evaluation. This is a useful tool for an evaluator to better understand what the project team consider success to look like, what assumptions this success hinges on, what measures might be available to better understand this success and who the various actors are that influence this success. As well as being useful for the evaluator, this is often a useful exercise for the project team to undergo as it allows them to reflect on their progress and what tasks they must undertake in order to best achieve success. I will talk more about Theory of Change and its uses in a subsequent blog post.

The final outputs of this field evaluation is of course a report. This report is shared with Defra and DFID for approval before being published on the Darwin Initiative website. You can see some examples here.

We also develop a shorter learning note which is intended to draw out lessons for the wider Darwin community, which you can also see here.

This is rarely the end point of these reviews since they often result in recommendations for both the projects and the programme. We may therefore use this material to refine our systems and processes within the Darwin Initiative to better ensure impact such as the refining the application forms. Additionally we use this material to help improve understanding within the wider Darwin Initiative community, through a variety of forums including this blog!

I hope this blog post is helpful in understanding what the purpose of these field evaluation visits are. We have at least 2 Mid Term Reviews to conduct later this year and a Closed Project Evaluation in September, hopefully in Kyrgyzstan, so watch this space!


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Sustainable fashion and biodiversity

The issue of sweatshops and child labour has become more and more prevalent in the news. This was especially so after the awful disaster at Rana Plaza in Bangladesh last year when the garment factory collapsed and over 1,100 people lost their lives.

Since then more attention has focused on how these garments are made and the conditions of these garment workers. But have you ever given much thought to where your fabric comes from even before we get to the issue of garment factories?

Cotton is a major cash crop in Ethiopia but little of this has made it to the international market. This is despite the fact that Ethiopia is thought to be one of the originators of cotton cultivation in the world. Part of the reason for the lack of cotton export is that much of cotton growing is done by small-scale farmers – in 2007/8, US$19 million of cotton was exported from Ethiopia compared to US$100 million for coffee in the same period.

Since 2013 the Darwin Initiative has been funding a project in Ethiopia that is focusing on the issue of cotton growers in southern Ethiopia. In November 2014 I had the opportunity to travel to Ethiopia to evaluate the project run by PAN UK in partnership with PAN Ethiopia. The aim of the project is to better understand pesticide use in farming (particularly cotton farming) in Ethiopia and seek to support these farmers to reduce their use of pesticides to the benefit of biodiversity and human health.IMG_5101

Pesticide use by both smallholder and commercial farms is widespread in southern Ethiopia. Prior to this project there had been a small number of studies that suggested that it was having a detrimental effect on biodiversity and human health but there was no systematic collection of evidence of what pesticides were being used and in what volumes. There was also no systematic monitoring of the impacts of this pesticide use on human health and biodiversity.

So back to Ethiopia or more specifically Arba Minch. An area that is not only beautiful and chock full of important biodiversity (it’s one of the most important flyway for birds in the Rift Valley) but it’s also home to many Ethiopian people whose primary source of income is agriculture particularly cotton.

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Pesticide use is rife in Ethiopia. Part of the problem is when it was first introduced in the 1960s is the word given for it in Amharic was ‘medicine’. Farmers were taught that this stuff was magical and it could cure practically anything. The pesticides used up until very recently ranged from the nasty to down right scary pesticides like endosulfan and DDT. They applied it by hand with no protective clothing – they even used the left over containers for storing food. Scarily it is even applied directly to the skin or clothes to treat ectoparasites.

Thankfully there is this Darwin project is demonstrating to farmers that pesticides are harmful to people, to biodiversity and, through excellent systematic research, to yields. Because you see bizarrely pesticides are causing farmers to grow less cotton than no treatment at all! They’ve been teaching farmers to apply agroecological methods – in essence this means teaching them about biodiversity and its value to them. They use the phrase ‘farmers friends’ for insects and birds. Previously they thought all insects were harmful and would treat their farms excessively with pesticides if they felt there were too many insects. Now they discuss with one another what insects and birds they have on their fields and apply organic practices (including the low tech ‘food spray’ – more on this here). Applying these organic practices has resulted in up to 100% yield increases for these farmers.

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The project is also supporting these farmers to establish cotton farming cooperatives with the intention that they achieve organic cotton certification and sell their cotton on the international market. A triple-win that will mean more money for the farmers, better health for the farmers and a stronger more biodiverse environment.

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They are in talks to sell their cotton to H&M and C&A once they achieve certification. Which should mean these farmers will be entering the international market and securing a fair price for farming that doesn’t cause untold harm to their health, their family’s health and globally important biodiversity.

What about you? Do you ever think about where your fabric comes from or how your clothes are made? Have you attempted to change the way you buy or source your clothes to reduce your impact on poverty or the environment?