In brief

In October 2011, the humanitarian NGO Mercy Corps initiated a programme called Revitalising Agriculture Incomes and New Markets (RAIN) in the Acholi region of northern Uganda. Its main goal was to stimulate economic prosperity and food security in the area by improving the agricultural sector's performance, especially through the development of capacity-building and training for the region's agribusinesses and smallholder farmers.

The challenge

Uganda went through a period of two decades of conflicts from the mid-1980s onwards, which had a significant socioeconomic impact on the population. “The Acholi sub-region, which occupies the northern centre of the country, was at the hub of a decades-long civil war. The brutal forays of the Lord’s Resistance Army, intertribal conflicts and crackdowns by government forces resulted in a severe and prolonged humanitarian crisis: more than 100,000 people killed, more than 20,000 children abducted, more than 1.5 million people displaced... Meanwhile, to the east, the neighbouring Karamoja sub-region’s 1.2 million people consistently register the lowest, among Ugandans, on human development indicators.”

On top of significant displacements, the conflict and resource constraints severely affected the living conditions of the population, especially in terms of access to food. “Due to years of armed conflict in the Acholi and neighbouring Karamoja sub-region, a large percentage of households relied on food aid, and 25 percent of children were reported as underweight at the height of the crisis in 2007."[1]

The initiative

In order to help address some of the key challenges facing the population, in 2011 Mercy Corps instigated the Revitalising Agriculture Incomes and New markets (RAIN) programme in the Acholi region of northern Uganda. Its main goal was "to stimulate economic prosperity and food security in northern Uganda by improving the performance of the agricultural sector".[2] It obtained support from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the international not-for-profit TechnoServe, and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

The programme’s approach was focused on "market facilitation", encouraging collaboration between private companies and local farmers. “RAIN works with businesses large and small who have the potential to generate economic benefits to smallholder farmers who are their clients and target groups of the programme. The targeted crops include, but are not limited to, cassava, sesame, groundnut, beans, maize, sorghum and rice... RAIN targets 50,000 smallholder farmers, 140 agribusinesses in the input and output sectors, 5 radio stations, 5 financial institutions, 8 large companies, and 500 Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs)."[3]

One of the main features of the programme when it started was the direct training of farmers. Later on, this changed to a more local implementation. “RAIN was redesigned in the first year to incorporate a market systems approach. Rather than directly delivering goods and services to households, the programme would support local actors to create long-term economic opportunities for poor farmers and others. RAIN’s new focus required team members to design their workflows to monitor and respond dynamically as markets developed."[4]

The public impact

The RAIN programme had a very positive influence on the livelihoods of local farmers in northern Uganda. “By taking a systems approach, working to remove business hurdles, addressing skills gaps, and strengthening market linkages, the initiative has, to date, improved the business performance of 61,520 smallholder farmers, 151 agribusinesses, 3 financial institutions, 660 VSLAs, and 4 radio stations operating in or servicing the cassava, millet, sesame, bean, groundnut, and rice and other value chains while building the capacity of the Lamwo District Ministry of Agriculture office to support ongoing development and commercial sustainability.”[5]

Mercy Corps reported in 2015 that, across its programme areas, RAIN had been linked to significant increases in income and productivity. “For approximately 36,000 households in the north, annual incomes increased, on average, by 82.5 percent, from approximately USD400 to USD730, or from a tad over a dollar a day to two dollars a day.”[6]

Another measure of development was the cultivation of new farmland. “Families who once planted two acres are now planting twice or three times that. According to RAIN survey data from 2014, Acholi farmers reported opening 4.5 acres of new land. Average farm size is now roughly 6.5 acres, and crop yields have, on average, improved 63 percent."[7]

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What did and didn't work

All cases in our Public Impact Observatory have been evaluated for performance against the elements of our Public Impact Fundamentals.

Legitimacy

Stakeholder Engagement Strong

Mercy Corps led the RAIN programme from its launch, together with TechnoServe, an international NGO focused on agriculture, and USDA. There was also close cooperation with local businesses and farmers: “other key stakeholders included private sector partners in the agribusiness and financial services sectors, community-based membership associations, and local government partners”.[8]

There was an emphasis on involving local teams and community relationships. “The Mercy Corps country and programme leadership focused on recruiting and building the kind of dynamic team that would be able to carry out an adaptive market development programme. It focused on hiring team members from the Acholi region in order to ensure strong localised knowledge and increase retention.”[9]

Political Commitment Strong

Both the local government in northern Uganda and the international organisations involved in RAIN had a strong interest in the programme and its success. Although RAIN was funded mainly by foreign donors, local government also contributed to its development. “Tangible investments by the local government like market stalls indicate a belief and interest in the future success of the cross-border market. With the anticipated economic opportunity that the cross-border market brings to the border area, individuals and families are building homes, rustic inns, and shops. A tarmac road construction project by the government will reach them within the next year."[10]

Similarly, USDA demonstrated its commitment to RAIN. “Initially funded for three years by USDA, the programme was extended for an additional two years. Mercy Corps also attracted additional funding for the same programme portfolio.”[11] TechnoServe, however, did not continue as a partner after this extension.

Public Confidence N/A

Although there is evidence of a positive impact on the lives of farmers participating in the initiative, and a significant uptake of the opportunities it offered, there is no direct evidence of public opinion about the RAIN programme.

Policy

Clear Objectives Good

The overall objective of the programme was "to stimulate economic prosperity and food security in northern Uganda by improving the performance of the agricultural sector" (see The Initiative above). It aimed to improve the economic conditions of farming communities in Uganda by addressing weaknesses in the market. More specifically, RAIN had three main strategic objectives:

  • “Enhance smallholder farmer production and profitability
  • “Improve agribusiness performance in input and output markets
  • “Expand access to financial services in rural areas."[12]

Evidence Strong

In August 2013, Mercy Corps published a report in which it reflected on the lessons of the RAIN programme in the Somali and Oromia regions of Ethiopia, which was initiated in 2010. This programme, which also drew on the 2006 USAID-funded Pastoral Livelihoods Initiative, fed in turn into the Ugandan RAIN programme.

Some of the main aspects of RAIN that the report evaluated included the funding and management methods deployed in Ethiopia. “The study applies a mixed method approach to understand (1) to what extent the flexibility and length of the RAIN funding made a difference to the programme’s emergency response and livelihoods development effectiveness; and (2) to what extent RAIN managers maximised potential advantages of the flexibility and length provided. Findings are based on interviews and focus groups with 50 key informants including RAIN senior managers, staff, consortium partners, Somali Region government officials, donors, and managers of peer programmes. In addition, findings draw upon an organisational learning survey completed by 22 former RAIN and current RAIN Plus staff.”[13]

Feasibility Strong

Apart from the evidence and experience that were drawn from the Ethiopian implementation of the programme, the RAIN team in Uganda also implemented a thorough recruitment process.

The initiative had a strong foundation in terms of methodology and funding. It implemented a Collaborating, Learning, and Adapting (CLA) approach, and secured substantial funding from the outset. “RAIN adopted a CLA approach to sustainably respond to needs in the Acholi region. New for the RAIN team, the CLA initiatives were implemented beginning in the first year of the programme... The total funding was USD6.2 million, and 100 percent was allocated for CLA as the programme adopted the approach from the beginning. At the later programme stages, the team was able to leverage new funding sources to enhance its broader approach.”[14]

There was also an emphasis on securing the right human resources for the project. “The Mercy Corps country and programme leadership focused on recruiting and building the kind of dynamic team that would be able to carry out an adaptive market development programme. They focused on hiring team members from the Acholi region, in order to ensure strong localised knowledge and increase retention. They also made a dedicated effort to attract women, who could communicate with and understand the programme’s female target group."[15]

Action

Management Strong

The management of RAIN was led by Mercy Corps, who placed a strong emphasis on capacity-building and learning, which was essential for the successful implementation of an adaptive market development approach.

One of the key aspects of the programme’s success was the focus on human resources and training. “Building team members’ skills was prioritised beyond what is seen in most programmes. Team members attended external and internal training courses in market systems programming, and successfully advocated for TechnoServe’s team to invest in and join training. The team received support from Engineers without Borders, Mercy Corps’ technical unit in headquarters, and a learning-focused monitoring and evaluation (M&E) consultant.”[16]

The leadership and coaching environment of the programme enabled team members to develop a collaborative environment. “Team members gave one another supportive criticism and advice, helping to improve one another’s critical questioning skills and the overall programme’s ability to learn and adapt... RAIN’s M&E staff focused on helping the broader team learn, improve interventions, and evolve the theory of change. This departure from M&E’s typical focus on measurement for reporting was enabled by the relatively limited number of required reporting indicators and semiannual (rather than quarterly) donor reports."[17]

Measurement Strong

The RAIN project had a team dedicated to regular M&E, as well as less frequent, more comprehensive evaluations to assess the programme's achievements. “A substantial portion of the M&E team’s time went to supporting frequent mini-assessments (covering topics such as cross-border trade, gender, and financial services) and internal evaluation activities (focused on understanding the impact of seed subsidies and contract farming)…  The assessments would then be led by the M&E team, but conducted jointly with implementation teams.”[18]

As the work was expanded, the programme invested in a monitoring database to make data aggregation efforts more efficient. A more comprehensive evaluation was launched at the close of the programme in 2016, to collect lessons and identify areas for improvement. “Mercy Corps will evaluate this programme so as to learn from and document results, determine programme impact, effectiveness and efficiency, examine potential sustainability of interventions and draw any lessons learned from the programme. Results from this evaluation will also inform programming for Acholi moving forward. This evaluation will be conducted in districts that benefited from all three thematic interventions and will be conducted by a lead evaluator. A separate evaluation will specifically be focusing on an in-depth assessment of the impact of financial service interventions."[19]

Other social metrics were also tracked separately to measure the impact of the project on women specifically. “In 2013, as part of a countrywide Mercy Corps initiative, the RAIN team conducted an internal gender analysis, started tracking gender-disaggregated recruitment metrics against targets, and began to proactively recruit and promote women.... By the start of 2016, the programme staff were 48 percent women, up from 22 percent at the start of the programme."[20]

Alignment Strong

The initiative had strong collaboration and communication between partner groups, and regular cross-sector meetings were held to identify potential areas of improvement. “Quarterly and semiannual meetings were the most useful for learning and idea generation when they included local government and private sector partners. Both the RAIN team and its external partners would make presentations about their strategies and challenges, which helped identify information-sharing gaps, strengthened trust and support (especially with local government), and allowed RAIN team members to learn about implementation challenges directly from local actors. For example, information sharing between the field agents of one private sector partner, Gulu Agriculture Development Company, and Mercy Corps staff helped to address key challenges around uptake of tillage services."[21]

The relationship with financial institutions and other key players in the market infrastructure was also critical to the programme's success. These partners provided the much-needed support for farmers to be able to grow their businesses. “Mercy Corps has been able to make the critical connections with financial institutions, agro-input suppliers, and buyers needed to establish a vibrant agricultural market serving more than 150,000 farmers."[22]

There was also collaboration between Mercy Corps and the National Cooperative Business Association-Cooperative League of the United States of America International (NCBA-CLUSA). "NCBA-CLUSA and Mercy Corps are working to help local farmers increase yields and improve their food security and household incomes... More than 4,244 farmers have realised increased yields and are now sharing their knowledge and training with over 55,000 more growers. As part of a holistic approach to agricultural development, NCBA-CLUSA is also helping smallholder farmer groups improve their access to credit, farming inputs like seeds and fertilizer, and wholesale buyers."[23]