An innovation perspective to IFAD impact investments: how ready is the conservation agriculture system in Moldova for impact at scale?

The Importance of Understanding and Measuring Innovations

The Financial Times’ late 2018 Report on Impact Investing showed that impact investing could help small-scale farmers in rural areas improve their livelihoods. However, investing ventures and enterprises that practice this type of investing -that produces positive social or environmental benefit in addition to returns on investment- often face funding barriers to scale up good practices.

To distinguish a good investment from a bad one, we must understand and measure the potential impact of said innovations at scale. This is especially the case today, as challenges related to innovation and innovation startups are ballooning.

The Scaling Readiness approach combines an innovation systems perspective for impact and a rigorous evidence synthesis method, using metrics developed initially by NASA and further developed by the EU. It links current agricultural and food innovation systems with potential impact at scale and sheds light on which innovations and investments IFAD should prioritize to achieve impact.

How Ready is the Conservation Agriculture System for Impact at Scale in Moldova? 

The IFAD-funded ‘Scaling Readiness of Conservation Agriculture System (CAS) in Moldova‘ study, conducted in collaboration with SKiM project staff and national experts on conservation agriculture in Moldova, in close cooperation with the Consolidated IFAD Programme Implementation Unit in Moldova (CPIU-IFAD), analyzed over 1000 CAS-related resources in the country. It also compared Moldova to countries with similar agricultural, economic, and social systems and identified 140 different evidence sources that inform the study.

A systematic analysis of the data collected – validated by key stakeholders- concluded that combining CAS with nine other innovations is critical to achieving impact at scale. As such, the study recommends integrating all these innovations as part of a package. (see circles on Fig.1)

Interestingly, the study also indicates that the various innovations within the CAS Innovation Package function differently and are not necessarily used in the same way.  In Moldova, the CAS policy and strategy innovations are implemented by a wide variety of stakeholders. They are more developed than other innovative products, such as digital farmer or enterprise conservation agriculture suitability assessment tools, factsheets of economic benefits of the CAS, and short-term benefit stories.

Overall, the Scaling Readiness of the CAS Innovation Package was 17.82, a typical average score for advanced semi-commercial Innovation Packages that still require public investments to sustain themselves. [More information on the metrics used in Scaling Readiness are available in the Lexicon Section of the Scaling Readiness Study] 

Why Conservation Agriculture System? 

Global research efforts and IFAD’s experience prove that conservation agriculture can have multiple environmental and social benefits. IFAD has invested in numerous initiatives to enhance CAS as part of the 2019-2014 IFAD ‘Country Strategic Opportunities Programme for the Republic of Moldova.’ Investments are continuing with the 2019-2024 COSOP, and so far, the results are promising.

The IFAD-funded’ Inclusive Rural Economic and Climate Resilience Programme’ (IRECRP) has triggered a policy process to boost the adoption of the CAS in Moldova. As a result, CAS has been mainstreamed into rural development planning to support small-scale private agroforestry investments, enhance institutional capacities, and improve the policy environment for climate-resilient agriculture and soil protection.

With IRECRP’s closing in September 2021, the first results have emerged. Agricultural productivity has increased by up to 25 percent, recorded over the years by the Programme’s annual impact assessments and the 2020 final survey.

CAS trainees and grant beneficiaries of the Programme have acknowledged the seriousness of climate change impacts. Drought is the primary constraint in Moldova, and 70 percent of respondents have reported higher soil moisture levels thanks to the CA system, enabling them to maintain acceptable yields when droughts hit.

„In the end, CAS is the only alternative,” said champion farmer Eugen Adam, who summarized the overall benefits of CAS. „Conservation farming is attracting a growing number of producers, and those who have implemented it have already seen results.”  

What does Scaling Readiness of the Conservation Agriculture System imply for IFAD investments? 

Overall, the Scaling Readiness Study concluded that several innovations in the CAS Innovation Package are at an advanced stage and ready to use in Moldova without significant public investments. The Policy and Strategy Innovations are in this category, thanks to national and international efforts and two decades of investments from IFAD, the EU, and several other international donors.

Other innovative products in the CAS Innovation Package need additional research and development (R&D) and utilization support.  Factsheets of Economic Benefits of the CAS, short Farmer Champion’s videos, and Farmer Field School Conservation Agriculture Related Courses need further R&D investments to become suitable and perform well in Moldova.

It is also the case for the Digital Farmer Enterprise/Suitability Assessment Tool, which requires additional support and investment to ensure dissemination. Boosting training and backstopping will also benefit a more significant number of farmers and enterprises.

The Way Forward 

The study confirmed that Conservation Agriculture is a promising approach to improving the farming sector’s resilience and farmers and enterprises engaged in farming and rural livelihoods. The study also suggested new ways to approach knowledge-sharing on the topic. To deliver a more significant impact in Moldova at scale, national and international investors must prioritize improving some of the innovative products in the Conservation Agriculture System.

The study is currently being translated into Romanian and Russian languages, enabling all relevant stakeholders in these countries and Eastern Europe to benefit from the lessons learned in Moldova. In addition, the CAS outcomes will likely be shared with the Moldova UN Coordination team in the second half of 2021.

The background for this study 

IFAD is one of the leading global players addressing funding barriers faced by small and medium agricultural impact enterprises to improve small farmers’ livelihoods.

In a recent address, IFAD’s President Gilbert F. Houngbo stated that „Innovation has always played a central role for us. It helps us connect with markets and financial services to promote a wide range of products, such as water-use efficiency, sustainable land management, biogas, and solar energy, as well as remote sensing for weather-indexed insurance.”

IFAD has also invested in novel approaches and tools to understand and measure impacts – such as artificial intelligence and Big Data methods – to identify suitable impact investments in its Country Strategic Opportunities Programme (COSOP).

Enhancing results management is a priority for IFAD, and evidence-based decision-making is essential to expand and deepen its impact in support of the rural poor.

IFAD’s NEN division has recently invested in three separate Scaling Readiness Studies in Moldova, Morocco, and Sudan as a part of the Strengthening Knowledge Management for Greater Development Effectiveness in the Near East, North Africa, Central Asia and Europe (SKiM) project led by ICARDA.

 

For more information about the SkiM project, please get in touch with Akmal Akramkhanov (a.akramkhanov@cgiar.org). To know more about the Scaling Readiness Work in the CWANA regions, please contact Murat Sartas (murat.sartas@gmail.com).

Blog written by Murat Sartas (ICARDA), Isabelle Stordeur (IFAD), Mia Madsen (IFAD), Emanuela Berti (IFAD), Samir Bejaoui (IFAD) and Akmal Akramkhanov (ICARDA).