Operational guidelines for assessing impacts of agricultural research on livelihoods: Good practices from CIMMYT

Operational guidelines for assessing impacts of agricultural research on livelihoods: Good practices from CIMMYT

A livelihoods approach to assessing impacts of agricultural research

Following a livelihoods approach, this manual responds to the need of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) scientists and field partners for guidance on impact assessment (IA). The aim of this document is to help ensure quality in IA, institutionalise good practices, provide a resource list of approaches, tools, suggestions, and give examples of how CIMMYT does good IA with partners in diverse places and conditions.

Many methods, tools, and standards are available for doing IA, yet there are two essential requirements. Firstly, IA must be integral part of the organisation’s core business and knowledge management. The second requirement involves formulating the right questions, designing the study, communicating throughout the assessment, and taking action on recommendations are as important as the actual IA results. Neglect of these requirements can seriously jeopardise the value of IA, resulting in studies that simply comply with pre-established rules and targets, playing it safe, or adopt a defensive stance or displace goals.

Key operational concepts for impact assessment highlighted by the guide include: 

  • Livelihoods: livelihoods have been defined at CIMMYT as the stocks and flows of assets and the ways these contribute to farmers’ well-being. A livelihoods approach means considering the impact of technologies or of projects on farmers’ livelihoods. This shifts the focus from maize or wheat crops alone, to approaches that link them to the stocks and flows of household assets and activities 

  • Poverty: even when agricultural research generates large gains in yield, poor farmers may not benefit. Poverty is not only about low incomes but includes food insecurity, social inferiority, exclusion, lack of assets, and vulnerability 

  • Adoption: this is the process by which innovations are accepted and used by people. Adoption is influenced by factors such as perceptions, the policy environment, socioeconomic characteristics, and the technology 

  • Attribution is the process by which a causal link is ascribed between observed (or expected) changes and interventions. It serves to assess those who at different levels and stages were involved in a project, programme or in the development and diffusion of a technology, and their roles.
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