CGIAR Research Program 2020 Reviews: Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA)


Year of Publication: 2020

Authors: Kalame Fobissie and Markus Palenberg


Background and Context

The Forests, Trees and Agroforestry CGIAR Research Program (FTA) aims to support sustainable development by improving production systems, ensuring food security and nutrition, enhancing people’s livelihoods, and addressing climate change. The FTA is led by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) in partnership with the World Agroforestry Center (ICRAF), Bioversity International, the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center (CATIE), the Agricultural Research Center
for International Development (CIRAD), the International Bamboo and Rattan Organisation (INBAR), and Tropenbos International. The first phase of FTA was implemented from July 2011 to June 2014, and extended through 2016; the second phase started in 2017 to continue through 2021. Research activities are coordinated within five flagship programs (FPs): FP1–Tree Genetic Resources; FP2–Livelihood
Systems; FP3–Sustainable Value Chains and Investments FP4–Landscape Dynamics, Productivity and Resilience; and FP 5–Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation. The flagship programs implement research activities through 25 priority areas.
Purpose and Scope of the CRP 2020 Review.
This review is one of 12 independent reviews conducted in 2020 by the CGIAR Advisory Services Shared Secretariat. The purpose of this review is to assess the extent to which FTA is delivering quality of science and demonstrating effectiveness in relation to its theory of change (ToC). The review focuses on FTA activities and results that were reported from 2017, when the program started its second phase, until end
of 2019.

Review Questions

1. To what extent does the CRP deliver quality of science, based on its work from 2017 through 2019?
2. What outputs and outcomes have been achieved, and what is the importance of those identified
3. To what extent is the CRP positioned to be effective in the future, seen from the perspectives of scientists and of the end users of agricultural research (such as policymakers, practitioners, or market actors)?
An additional review question suggested by FTA was:
How has the program dealt with prioritization in an environment of limited W1/W2 funding?
Approach and Methodology

This review followed a predetermined and standardized 11-week process. Primary qualitative data were collected by conducting 32 interviews and two targeted email surveys, including a detailed selfassessment of progress made toward targets and along ToCs of the program. The review team also conducted two deep dives on Outcome Impact Case Reports (OICRs) and participated in the scientific online conference FTA organized in September 2020. Quantitative data were obtained from bibliometric
and Altmetric analyses, the CGIAR Dashboard, and MARLO (Managing Agricultural Research for Learning Outcomes). The review analyzed FTA program documents for the period 2017–19. These documents include annual reports, planning and budgeting reports, evaluations, reviews, studies, meeting minutes,
and a range of publications and reports external to FTA. Principal limitations for this review were related to capacity and time constraints and limited evidence for program-level effectiveness.

Key Findings and Conclusions

Quality of Science
Quality of research inputs. A pool of researchers, financial resources, and host-country research privileges provided the needed FTA scientific input. FTA research was supported by 126 researchers with diverse disciplines and nationalities. The number of female full-time equivalent (FTE) staff varied across FTA managing partners with the lowest being 25% and the highest being 53%. More than 90% of FTA research funds came from Window 3 (W3)/bilateral funding while less than 10% came from Windows 1 and 2 (W1/W2) funding. The limited W1/W2, however, played an important role in helping FTA researchers mobilize additional bilateral funds and develop scientific concepts, tools, and innovations. The presence of FTA managing partner offices in different host countries also came with privileges that facilitated FTA research activities.

Quality of research process. Good partnerships, implementation of research ethics, and mentoring of early-career researchers characterized the FTA research process. Partnerships with internal and external partners provided value to the FTA program and led to joint research activities, events, and production of research outputs. While FTA used CGIAR policies, principles, and best practices on management of
intellectual assets, this review was unable, owing to limited data, to appreciate the extent of its implementation. Regarding the mentoring and training of early-career researchers, each of the FTA managing partners signs and implements the individual contracts and annual workplans of each of the early-career researchers.

Quality of research outputs. The quality, volume, and diversity of FTA publications in phase II was impressive despite the challenges with reducing FTA funding. A total of 1,625 books, book chapters, journal articles, papers, briefs, fact sheets, flyers, posters, and brochures were published, with about 70% in open access sources. A majority of the publications were journal articles in the fields of agroforestry, forestry, climate change, ecosystem services, landscape management, livelihood improvement, value chains, and germplasm management. FTA publications came from multicountry
collaborations among authors of different nationalities and were published in high- and low-impact-factor journals. To communicate outputs, FTA showed strong evidence of using multiple communication channels such as Twitter, blogs, and Facebook to disseminate scientific products to end users.
The work of FTA from 2017 to 2019 demonstrates in general a high quality of science in its research inputs, process and outputs that has culminated into the communication and dissemination of different research products to scientific, decision making and development implementation end users.

Achievement of planned outputs and outcomes. FTA showed strong implementation performance in phase II and is likely to make significant progress toward most planned end-of-program targets. While FTA will reach and even exceed several of those targets, progress toward the bulk of targets at that level will remain below original intentions because of reduced W1/W2 funding, the shortened program lifetime, and difficulties in raising W3/bilateral funding for selected issues such as Sentinel Landscapes.

Demonstrated importance of outcomes. Both OICRs selected for deep dives described significant contributions to national policy and innovation processes that were validated by the review team. In Nepal, ICRAF’s involvement shaped the policy content and likely accelerated the policy development process by several years. In Vietnam, CIFOR was the principal driver for the monitoring and evaluation (M&E) tool for Payment for Forest Environmental Services (PFES) that is currently being rolled out. In both cases, contributions to large-scale environmental and developmental impacts can be expected in several years but naturally hinge on external factors such as implementation financing.

Governance and management. Compared with phase I, FTA further increased its programmatic governance and management performance in phase II. The responsibilities of the Independent Steering Committee (ISC) were clarified and strengthened, and it provided effective and hands-on oversight to FTA. The Management Team (MT) was active and effective, brought FTA managing partners closer together, and found an efficient way to program W1/W2 resources across institutional boundaries. The review team confirmed a strong need for a proactive approach toward managing W1/W2 resources, which had been notoriously unreliable in terms of volume and timing throughout FTA’s existence. FTA’s threetier activity-based management system introduced for allocating W1/W2 funding was found to be relevant, appropriate, and effective. FTA’s governance and management arrangements and processes can be considered good practice for research for development (R4D) programs such as FTA.
Progress along ToCs. FTA’s ToCs were improved vis-à-vis phase I but can be further strengthened and used. FTA’s progress along its ToCs was found to be mostly in line with expectations. This is remarkable considering that the program received only about half of its expected W1/W2 funding and is expected to sunset a year early. There is also evidence of FTA’s collaboration with other CRPs and CGIAR Centers and platforms, which, however, suffered from staff capacity and resource constraints.
Cross-cutting issues. FTA’s academic education and short-term training have remained in line with phase I, but dedicated investment of W1/W2 resources for capacity development dwindled to low levels in phase II. Next to the Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security CRP (CCAFS), FTA’s FP5 represents the second principal program-level targeting of climate change mitigation and adaptation
issues in CGIAR. In contrast to gender/youth and capacity development, FTA staff considers climate change know-how to already be mainstreamed. Among CRPs, FTA is considered a good example of integrating gender into R4D. All managing CGIAR FTA partners have steadily increased the share of women in their research staff to more than 50%. Youth is managed as part of the gender priority and has remained a cross-cutting issue without much dedicated institutional or financial support. There are
indications that cross-cutting issues may be systematically underreported at FTA.
Future Orientation From 2021 to 2030, FTA research should be closely aligned to the sustainable development goals (SDGs). Key areas of FTA focus could include climate change, food security, improved livelihood and economic opportunities, multipurpose landscape management and inequality. The most important impact pathways for FTA should continue to be its influence on government and on international policy
processes. At the CGIAR level, priority areas of focus should include improving tenure rights and access to natural resources as well as strengthening or creating locally appropriate financial instruments to finance different landscape activities.


Recommendations addressed to FTA:
1. FTA should ensure that current overall high scientific productivity and implementation performance continue until the end of 2021 by taking measures to keep program-level staff and program partners informed, motivated, and involved.
2. FTA should continue to make scientific contributions to emerging and important global issues at the levels of policy and project design as well as development implementation. These issues include gender, food security, agroecology, climate change, climate finance, value chains, and biodiversity conservation.
3. FTA should engage in more targeted communication and dissemination of research findings to different audiences, especially in developing countries. FTA should go beyond global communications via Twitter, blogs, and news outlets to more focused dissemination in different relevant regional and national platforms and networks.
4. FTA should find ways to conserve and protect the significant value-added it has built beyond 2021, within or outside One CGIAR. This value includes the key staff currently financed from W1/W2 resources, FTA governance and management arrangements and related lessons learned, and the important personal and institutional relationships between FTA partners and their staff.
5. FTA should ensure timely synthesis and continued availability of its legacy in terms of knowledge and tools from phases I and II.
6. FTA should continue the ongoing end-of-program impact estimation work in a pragmatic and endproduct-oriented manner that ensures that relevant findings will be available and can be effectively communicated before the program ends in 2021.

Recommendations addressed to the CGIAR System:
7. The CGIAR System should support FTA partners in finding ways to conserve and protect the significant value-added FTA has built as a program. Without a global program addressing the critical R4D needs currently covered by FTA, CGIAR would lack a critical portion of its R4D portfolio.
8. Going forward, the System-level governance and management of CGIAR should fully embrace the reality that the bulk of CGIAR projects are bilaterally financed, and therefore programs (like FTA) have only limited control over those bilateral projects mapped to them. For those projects, primary accountability lies with the bilateral donor and not with the program or CGIAR. Based on this understanding, future untied CGIAR funding should be strategically invested (1) to strengthen programmatic collaboration between and beyond CGIAR Centers, and (2) to leverage, influence, and
complement bilateral project work.
9. The CGIAR System should reduce the reporting burden and transaction cost for CRPs in 2021 to the extent possible. Going forward, carefully balance benefits and costs associated with System-level planning and reporting, and develop a lean and efficient results-informed management system that satisfies the most important information needs of CGIAR donors and other stakeholders but avoids an excessive reporting burden on CGIAR scientists and managers and on CGIAR System-level staff.
10. When developing ToCs for future CGIAR programs, the CGIAR System should use a two-step approach to improve planning and reporting. First, it should develop “system ToCs” that describe the systems CGIAR programs aim to influence but without attempting to describe that influence or its effects. In a
second step, it should develop “desired-change ToCs” that explain where and how CGIAR programs aim to exert influence on the underlying systems.