Assessing the programme
Monitoring visits by Australian staff in 1997 and 1998 provided the opportunity for Solomon Island staff to get together and take a look at their work.
The aim of the monitoring visits was to develop a picture of the program for APACE management, however the information was also useful to program staff in the Solomon Islands. It was intended that monitoring should be as useful to the country office as it was to the Australian organisation.
Six criteria were used to evaluate the program:
These were derived from criteria used by Oxfam. In addition to these, the program was monitored against its objectives.
The 1998 monitoring visit of October and November disclosed a program making headway despite limitations imposed by too few financial, material and staff resources.
The criteria of relevance assessed the program against the conditions existing in the country and the agricultural and food needs of the program partner communities.
The relevance of the KGP’s work was boosted by a number of factors:
- participatory assessment and training techniques
- a phased approach to training, starting with the introduction of a limited set of new ideas, developing that knowledge through farmer experimentation, then moving on to new techniques
- increasing the availability of food crops through the Planting Material Network.
Evidence for the effectiveness of the agriculture program’s approach to training and development was visible in the form of:
- an increased number of sup sup gardens in villages; no count of gardens is available, however observation suggests that the number is increasing
- the trialing of new ideas in bush gardens, such as mulching and cross-slope planting
- cooperation with the Sasamunga Hospital Primary Health Care Unit resulted in the agriculture program gaining access to more villages that would otherwise have been the case; agriculture and family health were successfully linked through nutritional education carried out by the Primary Health Care Unit
- the growth in membership of the Solomon Islands Planting Material Network provided an indicator of increased effectiveness; membership at the time of the evaluation was 100, including village farmers, NGOs, government agricultural extension workers and school teachers; around 140 species were then in cultivation by the PMN.
To boost its effectiveness, the KGP has:
- built on core strengths of agricultural training and the exchange of planting material through the Planting Material Network
- anticipated partner needs through the compilation of baseline information that made possible the planning of training activities; the 1998 community food assessment on Choiseul, led by Brazilian community worker Liliana Peres, provided a new tool for assessing community nutritional needs
- encouraged self-reliance and innovation and the acceptance of reasonable risk in the trialing of new ideas; this has led to an innovative approach by staff and a willingness to incorporate new ideas; the PMN has laid the basis for greater farmer self-reliance in the supply of seed
- boosted organisational competency – productivity gains have been sought through staff training to the limited extent that it is available; a consultative approach has contributed to a more participatory type of management; an innovative type of staff performance agreement has been tried
- the hands-on, value-driven approach adopted by the program is based on values of participation, local control and shared decision making
- maintaining a flexible organisational structure inclusive of informal and less-frequent formal monitoring and evaluation of program work, regular meetings of staff and shared planning of programme activities have maintained an openness to new influences while protecting core values.
The fact that the KGP stretched the AusAID funding a year beyond the planned two year period without contraction of program activities provides evidence for the frugal use of funds.
The combined implementation of activities for the three pre-2000 projects during visits to Choiseul resulted in the conservation of funds and staff time.
Monitoring and evaluation disclosed considerable progress towards the program’s objectives.
Although progress has sometimes been faltering, the overall trend has been towards the achievement of objectives. Some objectives, however, have been changes in light of experience.
Probably the greatest setback to the program’s work has been the coup and conflict of mid-2000 which saw the return of some program staff to their home islands as a security measure and the partial abandonment of the project centre at Burns Creek.
The impact of the program is evident from the adoption of ideas passed on through training activities.
Sustainability refers to the capability of program managers to continue to operate the program.
An urgent need for new funding came with the ending of AusAID support in late 1998. The six month period of funds shortfall which followed was caused by a lack of early planning to find new sources and was largely due to constraints on staff time. The obtaining of new funding in 1999 solved the funding problem.
It is the nature of agricultural development programs that they are reliant upon external donor funding. Consequently, time to produce funding applications should form part of the program’s workflow.
Staff training will need to be formalised in some way to provide the skills and knowledge base for future operations, especially if the program starts work on Bougainville.
Training would provide the skills to continue to adapt to the needs of rural communities and the changing social, economic and security circumstances of the Solomon Islands.
The future of the Honiara project centre will have to be questioned if the present three year lease arrangement with Joini Tutua changes. In the year 2000, regional project centres were set up at Mana’Abu, North Malaita, and on the island of Munda, north of Guadalcanal, in response to the deterioration of the internal security situation in Honiara.
This, in effect, led to the decentralisation of the KGP, an idea discussed earlier in the programs development but not acted upon. In retrospect, the decentralisation can be seen as contributing to program sustainability although its motivation was reactive, in response to the security emergency.
In 1999, the major assets held by the Kastom Garden Program, such as the photovoltaic power supply and office equipment like computers, appeared to be adequate for present needs. Unfortunately, the photovoltaic panels were stolen during security crisis of mid-2000.
Overall, its been progress
Despite earlier struggles with too few staff and too little funding, and despite the setbacks and disruptions caused by the year-2000 security crisis in Honiara, the overall direction of the KGP has been forward. Progress has been slow, but achievements have been made.
Now, in late-2000, the leadership is starting to look more to the region as a focus for the program. Tony made a month-long fact finding journey in Bougainville – a large Melanesian island recovering from a decade of civil war-in 2000 – and found prospects for program work there. Contacts were made and project outlines worked up.
There remains the possibility, but not the likelihood at present, of work in Papua New Guinea and East Timor. As always, it is the availability of resources and funding which limits the possibilities, not staff or organisational enthusiasm.