Washington — The first evaluations of farmer training programs in five countries that received funding from the U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation show that the training led to increased production and incomes, the agency says.
Investments in training in Armenia, El Salvador, Ghana, Honduras and Nicaragua account for 13 percent of MCC's investments in those countries but just 2 percent of MCC's global portfolio, MCC said in an October release. Along with transparency and a culture of learning, the evidence-based impact approach allows MCC to continuously improve its programs, MCC said.
MCC invests in countries with track records of good governance, economic freedom and investing in their citizens. Most of its investment agreements -- called compacts -- are for five years.
MCC wants to learn what works and what doesn't in its programs that are aimed at reducing poverty and increasing food security. It uses both existing evidence and evidence built by program monitoring to guide its decisions about which counties it will fund and the design of its programs.
MCC used teams of independent professional researchers to carry out the evaluations. The evaluations showed that some traditional training methods may not necessarily have worked as expected. They indicated that farmers who receive longer periods of training and are trained in small groups would be more likely to alter their farming practices, leading to increased incomes.
Impact evaluations are growing in number as a way to show how effective investments in agriculture have been, MCC said. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) also uses the rigorous impact evaluation method.
"This path-breaking effort is putting to the test long-held assumptions about how to promote development and is just the type of learning we need if we are to use our assistance resources effectively," said George Ingram, co-chair of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network, a coalition of international development practitioners, policy advocates, experts and concerned citizens.
MCC reports the following results of its farmer training in the five countries:
• In Armenia, MCC invested $178 million in irrigated agriculture and rural roads under an agreement that ended in 2011. Robert Karapetyan grows wheat and tomatoes on 86 hectares near Pokr Vedi. His operation received a boost when he learned to use tractor-mounted laser leveling technology to smooth the soil in his fields. That allowed irrigation water to be distributed evenly. The technology funded by MCC saves area farmers money and improves yields by an average of 30 percent.
• In El Salvador, which concluded its $461 million agreement with MCC in September, dairy farmers who received MCC-funded training doubled their annual farm incomes by selling larger volumes of dairy products. In another program, more than 17,000 smallholder farmers working on approximately 32,500 hectares received training, seeds and equipment that helped them increase their production of vegetables and fruits, and improved their pasture lands.
• In Ghana, which had a $547 million agreement that ended in 2011, MCC funds were used to organize farmer training and distribute starter kits containing feeds, fertilizer and protective application equipment so the farmers could increase their production of high-value and staple crops. In the country's northern region, annual crop incomes increased significantly.
• In Nicaragua, which had a $175 million agreement with MCC, the evaluation showed that trainees' annual farm incomes went up 30 percent after about three years of support. Nicaragua's agreement was completed in 2011.
• In Honduras, which had a $215 million agreement, farmers received MCC-funded training to learn how to produce high-value crops to meet local and regional demand for fruits and vegetables. The produce is earning farmers higher incomes than when they grew maize. Honduras' agreement ended in 2010.
"The MCC's willingness to share information on both the successes and challenges of its programs and to apply the lessons learned is a model for the aid community," said Sam Worthington, president of InterAction, an alliance of nonprofits focused on international relief and development.