The U.S. Agency for International Development should improve the evaluation and analysis of its agricultural programs in Afghanistan as well as address staffing issues in order to advance its overall engagement in the country’s agricultural sector.
USAID awarded approximately USD1.4 billion to 41 agricultural programs in Afghanistan from the start of fiscal 2002 to March 2010. Some USD900 million of this assistance has already been disbursed, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
In its report called “Enhancements to Performance Management and Evaluation Efforts Could Improve USAID’s Agricultural Programs,” GAO said six USAID-backed agricultural projects in Afghanistan failed to meet the established targets for several performance indicators.
These underperforming programs include the Accelerating Sustainable Agricultural Program, which is the longest-running of the eight programs reviewed for the report. GAO said the program met only 67 percent of its targets in fiscal 2009.
GAO reported that some of the USAID’s agricultural programs in Afghanistan did not have clear targets, which prevented GAO from assessing the programs’ performances, the report explained.
To improve the overall performance of USAID’s support for Afghanistan’s agriculture sector, GAO urged the USAID administrator to:
- “Ensure the approval of implementing partner performance indicators.
- Ensure that implementing partners establish targets for all performance indicators. - Consistently analyze and interpret program data, such as determining the extent to which annual targets are met. - Make use of results from evaluations of its agricultural programs. - Address preservation of institutional knowledge.”
Improving monitoring and use of program data
In its review, GAO found gaps in USAID’s monitoring of its agricultural programs in Afghanistan. The office noted a significant delay in the delivery of a monitoring guideline to the USAID mission in Afghanistan. It said it found that guidance approved by USAID in 2008 did not reach the Afghanistan mission until June 2010.
The GAO report also noted USAID’s lack of a mission performance management plan. It said that while the agency collected data and asked its implementing partners to submit performance plans, it did not always approve the plans or require its partners to set clear targets for their performance indicators.
Furthermore, USAID failed to fully analyze and use the data it collects from its implementing partners. According to the report, some USAID officials said they did not have time to fully review performance reports submitted to them. As a consequence, GAO said that it is hard to determine the extent to which USAID consults performance data when determining program adjustments and informing high-level decision-makers.
Challenges to Agricultural Programs
The GAO report highlights several challenges that USAID faces in implementing and overseeing its agricultural programs in the country, including the volatile security situation and limited capacity of Afghanistan’s agricultural ministry and other relevant government agencies.
High staff turnover in the agency also hampers its operations, the report said. GAO noted:
“USAID has not taken steps to mitigate challenges to maintaining institutional knowledge, a problem exacerbated by high staff turnover. As we noted earlier, USAID did not consistently document decisions and staff could not always respond to our questions about changes that had taken place over the life of the programs, often noting that they were not present at the time of the changes.”