[This article was originally published in the On Think Tanks 2018 Annual Review. ]
Policies affect every dimension of the economic environment in which people pursue their livelihoods. And enabling policies are essential for providing the conditions for inclusive and sustainable development. Because the policy framework can have such a dramatic impact on the opportunities open to people and on their livelihoods, many organisations working in development explicitly seek to engage in, and advocate for, country-level policies that are expected to reduce poverty and inequality and improve sector outcomes. Such approaches tend to focus on the national government, discussing and strategising with an array of policymakers and development actors about the evidence in favour of particular policy approaches or tools. In some cases, this approach of evidence-based policy advocacy is coupled with a strong emphasis on engaging with the poor, and the organisations that represent them.
The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) promotes country-level policy engagement in order to support the goal of inclusive and sustainable rural transformation and the reduction of rural poverty. It pursues three outcomes when engaging in country-level policies. The first is to stimulate the production and use of evidence for policy processes, drawing heavily on its large portfolio of sovereign loans and grants as a key source for evidence on what works in diverse contexts. The production of evidence to inform policy processes is an important dimension of IFAD’s comparative advantage in policy engagement, with much of that evidence drawn from on-the-ground experience gained through project implementation.
The second is to enhance the policy capacity of governments. For example, by working with government actors and institutions either at the local -or national- level on strengthening capacity to monitor and evaluate policies and projects, or to undertake policy planning and implementation in the rural and agricultural sector. IFAD focuses a great deal of attention on strengthening the capacity of local governments or local implementation agencies, in order to ensure that projects are sustainable and have maximum impact on the ground.
Third, and most centrally, IFAD works to enhance the participation of smallholder farmers, the rural poor and the organisations they belong to in policy processes. This focus on bottom-up policy participation represents one of IFAD’s most frequently used tools for policy engagement, and is strongly linked to public engagement. In order to enhance the participation of the rural poor and their organisations in policy processes, IFAD creates space for policy dialogue and/or enhances stakeholders’ capacity to participate in policy processes.
In the first instance, IFAD uses its investment projects to create space or a platform for policy dialogue between national stakeholders – particularly rural producer organisations and other organisations representing smallholder farmers and the government. In the second case, an investment or grant-financed project can be used to enhance the capacity of rural people’s organisations, providing them with the skills and analysis they need to ensure that their leaders are able to participate effectively in national policy processes.
In Benin, for example, IFAD worked with the Federated Union of Producers of Benin (FUPRO), the National Platform of Farmers Organizations and Agricultural Producers (PNOPPA) and the National Agricultural Chamber of Benin (CAN) to organise and document public interviews with all candidates for the March 2016 presidential elections about their ideas for developing the agricultural sector. The activity aimed to improve the policy environment for the agroforestry and pastoral sectors in Benin, for family farmers and their organisations, and to position agroforestry and pastoral development at the centre of the presidential debate, given agriculture’s large contribution to GDP and national employment in Benin.
A participatory approach was used in the methodology design, involving farmer representatives from across the country, promoting strong ownership of the process. Additionally, the farmers’ groups worked to demonstrate political neutrality by imposing a strict agenda for the interviews (offering all candidates the same time to present their programme and answer questions), clearly defining rules of conduct and banning the use of campaign material by candidates at the site where the interviews were held. The events were covered by television and radio journalists.
Such approaches allow IFAD to engage in all parts of the policy cycle: supporting the rural poor in the formulation, approval and implementation of rural development and agricultural policies. Participation in monitoring policy implementation through the provision of feedback from the ground about what works and what does not, is an essential part of ensuring policies continue to improve their impact.
This article is derived from two previous publications: