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External Review and Impact Assessment of the African Highlands Initiative (AHI)


It is widely acknowledged that INRM is a means of achieving the CGIAR’s multiple goals of food security, poverty alleviation, and protection of the natural environment. The CGIAR has defined INRM as "a way of doing development-oriented research to simultaneously tackle poverty, ensure food security and environmental protection." These elements of human well-being are best addressed by enhancing the well-being of the ecosystem in which people live and work. In INRM approaches, problems are identified in a participatory manner, involving farmers and policy makers from the start. Inter-disciplinary research on alternative solutions then follows, using the actions identified in the first step. Since agro-ecosystems are driven by the interactions of ecological, economic, and social variables, INRM research has to work back and forth across all three dimensions.

The prevailing serious degradation of the natural resource base in the intensively cultivated and overpopulated highlands of Eastern and Central Africa resulted from poor land management systems associated with traditional farming practices, on the one hand, and the concerted effort to improve agricultural productivity through intensification and diversification, on the other. This has been exacerbated by the fact that the majority of poor small-scale farmers have not adopted many of the improved agricultural technologies and practices aimed at mitigating some of these problems. Cognizance of this concern led to the formulation of AHI both as an eco-regional program of the CGIAR and a regional program of the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA). AHI was initiated in 1995 as a consortium of national and international agricultural research and development organizations.

AHI's core role as an innovator is to develop novel methods and approaches for participatory INRM through testing in pilot sites, cross-site synthesis, and regional dissemination and institutionalization. AHI's targeted beneficiaries and partners in this work include national and international research organizations and networks, development organizations, local governments, civil society organizations, service providers, policy makers, community-based organizations, and male and female farmers.

AHI has implemented its activities at benchmark sites in Eastern and Central African countries (e.g., Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Uganda). A multi-disciplinary and multi-institutional team of researchers and development workers, located at each benchmark site, works with farmers in a participatory mode. A regional research team based at AHI’s regional headquarters in Kampala, Uganda, supports the site teams. Technical and methodological support is also provided by regional research fellows (RRFs) based in the collaborating countries or at AHI headquarters. A regional coordinator provides technical and administrative support. AHI uses capacity building as an instrument to enhance the competence of scientists and associated partners.

AHI uses an approach in developing and managing its research/development programs that allows a large number of stakeholders to have an active role in identifying and prioritizing research themes. The use of multi-disciplinary and multi-institutional research teams at benchmark sites in each participating country enhances testing relevant social and technological systems/approaches to solve problems related to agricultural productivity and environment management.

Documentation and data on outcomes and impacts at the sites are important in planning strategically the future research and investment in Eastern Africa region. Frequent evaluation and feedback help the program to improve planning, implementation, and monitoring activities, which contributes to effectiveness in achieving set goals and objectives. Against this background, AHI and its host institutions, with financial support from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), requested an external review and impact assessment (ERIA) to review program progress and assess AHI’s performance in the region. Although AHI’s evolution has occurred in several phases and has required modifying its contextual framework, this review concentrates on phase III and IV, though it draws upon the external evaluations of previous phases.

The objectives of the ERIA are as follows:

  1. Assess the extent to which the program is meeting its objectives and aims, as set out in its directives, and identify any evolution in program objectives; 
  2. Document and assess program results (i.e., outputs, outcomes, and impacts at the household, landscape, district, and institutional levels); 
  3. Offer reflections on the strengths and weaknesses of the program’s thematic approach and strategies in relation to the current thinking and practice; 
  4. Assess the composition and functioning of the program team as it relates to its ability to meet program objectives; 
  5. Make recommendations on how AHI could adapt in light of the current situation and anticipate changes within the field of INRM research.

To carry out the assignment within the brief time allotted and provide feedback to AHI and its stakeholders, donor, and host institutions, the ERIA team:

  1. Performed a desktop review of all documentation (from the website, briefs, working papers, journal publications, and other relevant reports made available by AHI)
  2. Carried out household surveys in four sites (Lushoto in Tanzania, Kapchorwa in Uganda, and Areka and Ginchi in Ethiopia), conducted more than 400 household interviews, performed data analyses focusing on impacts on households, communities, and local institutions, and generated both quantitative and qualitative information; households for the survey were drawn from three categories:”participating” households in the watershed, “other residents” in the watershed who are expected to benefit from spillovers and ”control” group from outside the project area for counterfactual comparisons 
  3. Conducted focus group discussions on landscape issues with farmer groups
  4. Interviewed stakeholders at the institutional level to record AHI outputs and assess AHI outcomes and, in some instances, impacts on partner institutions.
  5. Reviewed four field reports by consultants and a synthesis of the results of the household surveys and focus group discussions.