Paper on the Earmarked Grants Program, a Regional Environmental Center program that makes grants to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) | 1995
A Review and Recommendations
Prepared by, Roger Blobaum World Sustainable Agriculture Association
- Executive Summary
II. The REC’s Sustainable Agriculture Constituency
- The REC’s Sustainable Agriculture Constituency
- Sustainable Agriculture Trends and Norms
- Assessment of EGP Guidelines and Procedures
- Proposal Themes and Patterns
- General Program Recommendations
IX. Strategic Option Proposals
1. Executive Summary
The Earmarked Grants Program (EGP), a Regional Environmental Center (REC) program that makes grants to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) for projects in four topic areas, is examined and assessed in this report. The report focuses on grants made for sustainable agriculture projects, first in response to several unsolicited proposals submitted in 1991-93 and then for the large number of proposals submitted in response to specific calls for tender in 1994 and 1995. It also reviews REC activities that relate to the EGP and proposes three sets of options for future program development.
Although more than half of the NGOs involved in sustainable agriculture have been established in the last five years, a review of EGP proposals and files and other records suggests that more than 100 in the region have developed organic and sustainable agriculture activities or projects. These NGOs, like others in this 13-country area, lack experience in working together, raising public consciousness and mobilizing public opinion, and engaging in public advocacy aimed at influencing agricultural and environmental policy. This review also suggests that the REC should do more to realize its potential to mobilize and cultivate and service this important sustainable agriculture constituency and to develop a long-term mutually beneficial relationship.
The strong interest of CEE NGOs in sustainable agriculture is in line with recent global trends and with the need in the region to make a transition to smaller, privately held farms and to more environmentally sound practices. The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in 1992 was a global turning point for both sustainable agriculture and environmental NGOs. More than L400 NGOs were accredited to this conference. More than 300 representatives of organic and sustainable agriculture NGOs from 70 countries engaged in a parallel forum that developed and adopted an NGO global plan of action.
Agenda 21, the global plan of action adopted at UNCED, takes the position that a transition to sustainable agriculture is an imperative and not an option. CEE governments were among the 170 that, along with international agencies and institutions in the United Nations system, accepted this action plan. This commitment by both governments and NGOs provides clear direction to the REC to support a regional transition to sustainable agriculture. The most appropriate CEE model, and the one most consistent with cultural and historic patterns, appears to be the wide range of programs and policies advocated by NGOs and adopted by several countries in Western Europe.
Although CEE NGOs appear to be in the mainstream in terms of their interest and involvement in sustainable agriculture, they fall far short of global norms relating to organizational development, structure, staff professionalism, financial viability and accountability, and ability to influence policies through meaningful public participation. The appropriate model would appear to be the highly successful U. S. nonprofit sector.
This report discusses, and provides recommendations, on unresolved issues relating to achieving inter-boundary cooperation between NGOs, the appropriate level of program implementation and accountability, the balance of influence between NGOs and the REC over EGP content and direction, outreach to potential grantees, and the title and content of the sustainable agriculture calls for tenders.
Proposals dealing with agriculture and the environment and submitted to the REC since it was established provide a rich source of information about NGO activity in this topic area. The main theme of the proposals submitted is ecological agriculture. Another theme appearing in a large number of proposals is eco-tourism. A number of other proposals deal with biodiversity, agricultural waste handling and recycling, and other topics compatible with ecological agriculture goals and principles. The activities called for in most proposals involve education and training, raising public awareness, and economic development. This suggests a need to move NGOs to a higher activity level that includes voluntary participation in such collaborative efforts as information-sharing networks and participation in joint pohcy formulation and pohcy-influencing campaigns.
The report includes 18 general program recommendations for changes and course corrections relating to the interface between the REC and its sustainable agriculture constituency, EGP guidelines and procedures, dissemination of project-generated information, liaison with Ministries of Agriculture and other agencies and institutions influencing agricultural policy, and new requirements aimed at eliminating duplication and increasing fiscal accountability. The report also proposes three options for future EGP development. One is a steady upward course option recommended for immediate adoption, one is a pro-active option recommended for implementation in 1996, and the third is a pro-active special initiatives option recommendation for implementation in 1997.
This is a report assessing the Earmarked Grants Program for Sustainable Agriculture carried out in 1994 and 1995 by the Regional Environmental Center. It is based primarily on information in the project proposals (126), the summaries of projects funded (17), the reports of projects completed (8), REC needs assessments and other internal reports, REC publications, interviews with EGP and other REC staff members, visits to project sites, participation in winners meetings, and other published material from Hungary and elsewhere. It also draws on this evaluator’s previous report on sustainable agriculture in the CEE region, which was submitted to the REC in January, 1994, and used to help shape the initial call for proposals and the selection criteria adopted.
The Environmental Grants Program for Sustainable Agriculture has been operational less than two years and only one grants cycle has been completed. This is far too short a period for an assessment based entirely on demonstrated program results. This report, in response to that limitation, also draws on 1) information related to unsolicited sustainable agriculture proposals and grants in the period before the Sustainable Agriculture Program was formally instituted, and 2) on other published materials related to sustainable agriculture available at the REC during that preliminary period. This unsolicitated proposal period, during which 15 sustainable agriculture projects were funded, began in I990 when REC Grant No. I (Marketing Organically Grown Foods from Hungary) was approved for a one-year period ending December 15, I99I.
This report also reviews other REC activities that relate to, or are impacted by, the EGP and proposes a set of three options for future development.
Evaluations normally are based on how well an organization or project meets a set of overall objectives and measurable goals. Although both the REC and the EGP have well-defined overall objectives, the EGP as a division of the REC does not have measurable goals. This assessment report, as a result, attempts for the most part to measure achievements of the Earmarked Grants Program for Sustainable Agriculture against recognized international sustainable agriculture and NGO performance norms.
The first section of this report identifies and describes the NGOs the Earmarked Grants Program for Sustainable Agriculture is designed to serve. It discusses the directories and data bases used and explores the possibility that the REC and the EGP may not be reaching all of the potential applicants. It discusses briefly the growing influence of organic and sustainable agriculture NGOs on international agencies and institutions, their growing capacity to cooperate through networking and other collaboration, and their impact on agricultural policies in individual countries. It raises questions about the role NGOs can play, and should be playing, in shaping the REC’s sustainable agriculture grants program and the fact that public participation is a global norm of the grassroots-based organic and sustainable agriculture movement.
The second describes current trends in sustainable agriculture and in the development of sustainable agriculture NGOs from an international perspective, the trends for both elsewhere in Europe, and the special situation in Central and Eastern Europe. It describes the adverse environmental impact of agricultural problems imposed on CEE countries by the Soviet Union following World War II, discusses the transition underway in the agricultural and NGO sectors since the late 1980s, and suggests why agriculture’s status in this 13-country region is unique. It describes the role of sustainable agriculture NGOs in the Earth Summit process in Rio de Janiero in 1992 and the likely impacts of commitments made there. It also discusses various models, programs, and activities that have been identified and described since.
The third section examines the contents of the EGP’s calls for proposals, evaluation criteria, grantee awards procedures and grants management process. It reviews the fairness and transparency safeguards provided. It discusses the reporting requirements aimed at assuring financial accountability, the emphasis on model value, and the methods used to encourage dissemination of results. It describes the approach used in the second year to gain more regional cooperation, discusses how this compares to NGO norms, and suggests alternative approaches. It also discusses the use and the limitations of needs assessments and how NGO norms in earmarked grants programs are being applied.
The fourth is an assessment of patterns running through both the projects approved for funding and the applications submitted by NGOs. It focuses primarily, but not exclusively, on the two years the EGP on Sustainable Agrculture has been in effect. These patterns involve topics and sub-topics, country of the grantee, maturity of the grantee, and indicators of agricultural sustainability. It attempts to describe in much more detail what NGOs are proposing, what the REC is funding, what likely impact this is having on environmental quality, and what this may mean for the future.
The fifth makes a series of spepific recommendations for changes in REC policies and procedures relating to its grantmaking activities in the CEE region and to the operation of the EGP itself. These recommendations are pulled from earlier sections of the report, where the problems involved are explored in detail. Each recommendation includes a brief explanation and/or rationale.
The last section proposes and discusses three strategic and program modifications needed for each option.
II. The REC’s Sustainable Agriculture Constituency
This evaluation would not be complete without a discussion of the constituency of the Earmarked Grants Program for Sustainable Agriculture. Unlike NGOs involved in organic and sustainable agriculture projects and activities in Europe and the United States and many other parts of the world, those in the CEE region are relatively new and inexperienced in carrying out research and education programs, raising public consciousness and mobilizing public opinion, and engaging in public advocacy aimed at influencing agricultural and environmental policy. A small number of older NGOs in the region that participated in the greens movement or became politiclly active at the beginning of the new political era and several organic farming groups that have had help from outside the region would appear to be the main exceptions.
A review of the 51 CEE NGOs that listed sustainable agriculture (and 25 more that listed something similar such as environmentally fit farming) in information furnished for the REC’s NGO Directory shows that 50 (66 percent) were established in the 1990s. Nearly all the others were established in the late 1980s. Most lack institutional and financial stability and are still relatively immature and inexperienced in competing for funds and in designing and managing projects.
Although some of these new NGOs have some Western contacts and support, or have become part of some umbrella group, all are still in the early stages of building a constituency and developing an identity, credibility, financial viability, public support, and media and advocacy know-how. Most NGOs at that state of development feel the need to be independent, avoid cooperative arrangements, and often are engaged in struggles with other organizations over turf. The newer ones may well be intimidated by the REC’s deadlines and guidelines and by its financial and reporting requirements. The fact that the Earmarked Grants Program on Sustainable Agriculture generated 60 proposals in 1994 and 66 in 1995 may well reflect a desperate need for funds as well as a desire and ability to shape and implement a project that will protect the environment or yield environmental benefits.
It is important to note that sustainable agriculture seems unduly narrowly defined in the NGO Directory. The listing of 51 sustainable agriculture organizations, as previously noted, does not include 25 that use similar words to describe sustainable agriculture. The many NGOs that list soil protection and biodiversity, two sustainable agriculture activity areas, also are not included in the sustainable agriculture category. A cursory review of the work priority index breakdowns would indicate few NGOs are involved in sustainable agriculture (51 out of more than 1,600) when the actual number of those actively involved is at least two or three times that many.
More important, and more serious, is the fact that the NGO Directory does not list most of the larger and more important organizations involved in sustainable agriculture. Only five of the 33 non-governmental organizations listed in the EACD Programme printout for CEE countries served by the REC are in the directory. In addition only seven of the 19 that are members of the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Producers (IFOAM) are listed in the directory. These are much more likely to have an international orientation and to cooperate on a regional level. Only two of the authors of the excellent country profiles in the directory even mention agriculture. Several organizations listed in this evaluator’s 1994 report to the REC are missing from the directory. Finally, the directory also does not list all the past and present REC sustainable agriculture grantees. What this suggests is that the local REC offices, which provided most of the information for the directory, are not knowledgeable about the activities of sustainable agriculture NGOs and are unaware of many of the strongest and best sustainable agriculture organizations in the CEE region. It also suggests they should not be relied on to make all the appropriate NGO contacts.
Overall it can be concluded that the NGO directory prepared by the REC, the eco-agriculture database prepared largely with REC funding, and other REC information sources simply do not reflect the size and importance of the sustainable agriculture constituency. It appears that a large number of sustainable agriculture organizations involved in working for a more environmentally sound agriculture are simply dropping through the official cracks at the REC. This strongly suggests that a much greater effort should be made to produce and maintain one main sustainable agriculture NGO mailing list for REC use. The system used now would strongly suggest that only part of the sustainable agriculture NGOs in the region are receiving copies of the Earmarked Grants Program for Sustainable Agriculture announcement or are contacted for information gathered in making needs assessments.
The CEE region also appears to lack the networking and coalition building capability that is so characteristic of NGO activity in many countries. The sustainable agriculture movement in many parts of the world is strongly supported by a wide range of consumer, environmental, animal protection, wildlife, and similar NGOs. In many others these non-agricultural groups are directly involved in coalitions and actively engaged in networking. These non-agricultural organizations, to the extent they exist in the region, should be viewed as potential partners in the cooperative arrangements the EGP is trying to encourage.
The REC clearly has not reached its potential in mobilizing and cultivating and servicing the sustainable agriculture constitutency in the region. The EGP provides an unusual opportunity to interface with the NGOs in this constitutency, use its funding to strengthen them, and to develop long-term working relationships. It would appear that there are at least 100 sustainable agriculture NGOs in the region that are capable of making a real contribution. They are crucial to carrying out the REC’s mission. The REC needs to make a much greater, and more systematic, effort to develop a mutually beneficial relationship with this important constituency, to be perceived by these NGOs as an environmental leader, and to involve them in activities like information exchange as well as in being a potential source of funding.
III. Sustainable Agriculture Trends and Norms
Both the sustainable agriculture approach and the NGO sector have become well established in many parts of the world. The two are linked in most countries because sustainable agriculture, for the most part, has evolved as a grassroots movement. It was viewed with skepticism by most agricultural professionals and lacked important public and government support and recognition in most countries until the late 1980s.
The main exceptions to this global pattern are the Peoples Republic of China, the Commonwealth of Soviet Republics, and Central and Eastern Europe. Industrialized agricultural systems were mandated under socialism, and became the norm, in the CSR and CEE regions. They were implemented through a system of huge state farms and cooperatives in the CSR and CEE regions and through a system of large rural communes in the PRC. Although China abandoned the communes and has returned to a system of independent producers, it has continued to subsidize chemical fertilizers and pesticides and to promote more industrialized production approaches. NGOs were either discouraged, repressed, or banned in all of these planned economy countries until the late 1980s.
The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in 1992 has turned out to be a global turning point for both sustainable agriculture and environmental NGOs. More than 1,400 NGOs were accredited to this conference, more commonly referred to as the Earth Summit, by far the largest number ever for any international conference. More than 300 representatives of organic and sustainable agriculture NGOs from more than 70 countries, also by far the largest number brought together in one process, participated actively in the Earth Summit, engaged in a collaborative effort to influence its outcome, and developed and adopted an NGO global plan of action.
This section describes the evolution of sustainable agriculture and of the NGOs active in developing and promoting it, discusses how well both sustainable agriculture as an approach and sustainable agriculture NGOs as a sector in CEE countries compare to the global mainstream activity, and suggest what the EGP and the REC should do in the future to help bring both sustainable agriculture and organic and sustainable agriculture NGOs into line with these widely-followed norms.
Agriculture in Central and Eastern Europe appears to be at a crossroads in terms of both technology and structure. There appears to be wide agreement on the need to make a transition to smaller, privately held farms and to more environmentally sound practices and to have this change take place simultaneously with farmland privatization. Replacing a system that has been in place for 50 years and doing it with few financial resources is extremely difficult. Both the REC and the EGP have an opportunity to make an important contribution to environmental quality in the region during this time of change.
The agricultural transition getting underway in the region is part of something much bigger. There are new signs of international consensus, such as the commitments made at the Earth Summit by more than 170 countries to begin resolving some of the conficts between agricultural development and environmental protection. The question no longer is whether more sustainable methods will be adopted. The question is how can this global transition be carried out in ways that will enable the agricultural sector to remain viable and productive and how long will this transition take.
Semantic differences that exist throughout the world should not be seen as a barrier to action. These environmentally friendly approaches were initially referred to as alternative agriculture. More recently they have been grouped together under the general heading of sustainable agriculture. They are known in various parts of the world as low impact, organic, low input, regenerative, biological, ecological, agroecological, biological recycling, biodynamic, and nature farming. They are sometimes referred to in the CEE region as balanced or reasonable farming. Some are more sustainable than others but all are models of the agriculture of the future.
Although there is no consensus on a definition of sustainable agriculture and, in fact, more thah 70 published examples exist, that should not be of concern to the REC. Most policymakers describe it as an approach or a concept or as an agricultural goal or destination. There is little support for the idea that it is a set of prescribed practices. There is general agreement that it is site specific and relies heavily on the experience and wisdom of farmers and their ability to adapt practices to local soil, weather, and other conditions. It also requires a partnership with nature rather than an attempt to manipulate or dominate or subdue it.
Various criteria for agricultural sustainability are being developed. There is growing consensus that sustainable systems I) are in harmony with nature and utilize natural processes as the farmer’s partner; 2) are sun-powered and rely as much as possible on renewable energy; 3) avoid the use of toxic inputs; 4) conserve topsoil and avoid pollution runoff from farmland; 5) capture and recycle all organic wastes generated on the farm; 6) fully integrate livestock into farming systems and treat livestock humanely; 7) protect farmland from conversion to nonfarm uses; 8) harness the biological life of the soil and maintain soil health, and 9) provide a fair return on a farmer’s management, labor, and investment.
These criteria, of course, apply to normal farming operations that allow for both crop and livestock production. There also is growing interest in criteria for fish production and wild products. Organic standards are being developed for fish and IFOAM standards already are in place for wild products. A new and important area of activity is agro-forestry, a topic pushed hard by NGOs at the last Commission on Sustainable Development meetings at the United Nations in New York. Standards that can be used to certify ecologically managed forests and their products are being developed.
The Earth Summit provided a highly publicized opportunity to acknowledge that a growing number of people around the world, including many agricultural scientists and policymakers, are concerned about the long-term sustainability of industrialized agriculture. They expressed concern about its heavy reliance on fossil fuel and other nonrenewable inputs, about its dependence on chemical fertilizers and pesticides, about soil erosion and compaction and salinity and other resource depletion, about genetic erosion due to uniform cultivars selected for large scale monocultural systems, and about destruction or impairment of natural ecosystems and accelerated loss of species and habitat. Presence of all of these adverse impacts of the industrialized agriculture dominant in the CEE region since World War II have been fully documented.
Agenda 21, the global plan of action adopted at the Earth Summit, takes the position that sustainable agriculture is an imperative, not an option. A global transition to sustainable agriculture is called for in Chapter 14, which is entitled Meeting Agriculture’s Needs Without Destroying the Land. CEE governments were among those from 170 nations that, along with international agencies and institutions in the United Nations system, accepted its action plan in principle. This across-the-board commitment would seem to provide clear direction to the REC to support a regional transition to sustainable agriculture.
More than 300 representatives of NGOs that support organic and sustainable agriculture also met separately at the Earth Summit at a 2-week forum and produced and signed off on a joint document called The Sustainable Agriculture Treaty. It included a sharp critique of industrialized agriculture and outlined a plan for a global transition to ecological agriculture. Most, if not all, of the small number of NGO representatives from CEE countries present in RIO were able to participate because their way was paid to Brazil for an IFOAM conference held in Sao Paulo a week later. The Rio NGO document, which has been widely publicized and quoted in many countries, is one possible road map for action by the new organic and sustainable agriculture organizations in the CEE.
The NGO document also outlined principles of an alternative agricultural approach. An agriculture that is sustainable, it noted, I) preserves biodiversity, maintains soil fertility and water purity, conserves and improves the chemical, physicial and biological qualities of the soil, recycles agricultural wastes, and conserves energy; 2) produces diverse forms of high quality foods, fibers, and medicines; 3) uses locally available renewable resources, appropriate and affordable technologies and minimizes the use of external and purchased inputs in an attempt to increase local independence and self sufficiency; 4) allows more people to stay on the land, strengthens rural communities, and integrates humans with their environment, and 5) respects the ecological principles of diversity and interdependence and uses modern science to enhance, rather than displace, the traditional wisdom accumulated over centuries by farmers.
Organic and sustainable agriculture NGOs have participated since in several international conferences and in the annual sessions of the Commission on Sustainable Development, the UN agency set up to assure Earth Summit followup. The policy recommendations the NGOs have made at these meetings have consistently followed the commitments made at the NGO Forum in Rio three years ago. A cursory review of funding applications made to the REC since 1992 strongly suggests NGOs in CEE countries generally conform to these global norms. The EGP and the REC should recognize that these are global NGO norms and support them whenever possible.
Observance of global NGO norms relating to organizational development, structure, and performance is where most organic and sustainable agriculture NGOs the REC has dealt with fall far short. This is partly due to the fact that most are relatively new and short of resources. An examination of EGP project files strongly suggests, however, that most CEE NGOs place a low priority on meeting standards that are widely accepted and observed elsewhere.
The areas involved include financial viability and accountability, grantsmanship skills, development of model projects and dissemination plans, ability and willingness to collaborate, avoidance of duplication, ability to remain independent of government and donor influence, media and public relations skills, training of professional staffs, and ability to influence policies through meaningful public participation. There is some evidence also of a casual attitude toward fulfilling requirements, meeting deadlines, accounting for money, and similar actions taken for granted in most countries. One grantee commented in a meeting that the two best ways to raise serious money in the region were to rob banks or get REC funding. Another remarked that the same tactics were often useful for both.
Although the standards are high, NGOs in the CEE would do well to model themselves on the nonprofit organization sector in the United States. Every U.S. NGO expecting funding from a government agency, foundation, or similar source submits its finances to an audit by a certified public accountant every year. This provides assurance to funders and others that the NGO has a financial accounting system in place, that it has internal safeguards that provide protection against embezzlement and other mis-use of funds, and that it complies with all government regulations restricting use of tax-exempt funds. A grantee furnishing a copy of a certified audit under this system is not required to submit receipts for expenditures and other financial documentation.
The U.S. nonprofit sector also has developed training programs for its staff members, benefit packages that are competitive with government and business, and other activities that attract young people and help build a professional corps. Although salaries at most NGOs are less than those in most other positions, these organizations provide satisfying career opportunities. This investment in personnel is made possible by fundraising approaches, including direct mail solicitation, that depend on credibility with the public. The system of governance, which includes boards of directors legally responsible for an NGOs financial and other matters, also adds strength to this sector.
The REC, in its programs aimed at strengthening the NGO sector, should give high priority to their development as independent self-sufficient entities with fiscal integrity. An attempt should be made by the EGP to identify those that can meet higher standards and begin to reduce the paperwork involved in grant implementation. Software programs for fundraising, financial management, and accounting are readily available. It will be extremely difficult for NGOs in the CEE to obtain funding from foundations and government aid sources, especially U.S. foundations supporting international work, until these higher standards are met.
The final issue is whether the REC, and the NGOs in the region, should support and implement policies that meet international norms. Should policies developed to provide assistance in developing nations, for example, be applied in the CEE countries? There is consensus in the international community that the CEE and CRS countries are transition countries that are neither industrialized (as the term is used in describing the OECD countries) nor developing. The CEE region is unique and the kind of change that is supported should be appropriate. It appears that the appropriate model for sustainable agriculture development is Western Europe, which has similar culture and history and shapes up as an important potential market for agricultural products from the CEE region.
The strong commitment to organic and sustainable agriculture by most countries in Europe, and the policies adopted to carry it out should be the goal for the CEE region. This includes a commitment to environmental quality that emphasizes the precautionary principle. It recognizes the uniqueness of the current CEE regional situation and is the approach most likely to gain public support and to succeed. Specific policies include providing financial incentives for farmers converting to environmentally sound production methods.
IV. Sustainable Agriculture Grants Program Guidelines and Procedures
The Earmarked Grants Program for Sustainable Agriculture was first announced in a REC bulletin supplement in October of 1993, the deadline for submitting the first round of proposals was the following January, the first winners meeting for the first grantees was only 15 months ago, and the second round of grantees has just begun implementing their projects. It is not possible, in view of the short time the program has been operational, to attempt any kind of formal evaluation. It is possible to assess the need for things like grant writing skills, improved grant management and financial procedures, revised calls for tenders, or upgraded guidelines and manuals. This section also includes a discussion of unresolved issues related to the EGP and a series of recommendations for mid-course corrections.
The stated purposes of the sustainable agriculture grants program is to help strengthen NGOs in the region, to reduce the environmentally undesirable effects of agricultural activities, and to help the REC fulfill its region wide mission.
Some Unresolved Issues
A review of EGP files and reports and discussions with program managers suggests a number of issues related to the program and its future direction remain unresolved. These include the question of how to achieve inter-boundary cooperation between NGOs, the appropriate level of program implementation and accountability standards, the appropriate balance of influence between NGOs and the REC over program content and direction, the extent to which the REC takes responsibility for reaching all potential grantees, and the title and content and tone of the Sustainable Agriculture calls for tenders.
The response to a perceived need to achieve more inter-boundary cooperation between NGOs, announced in the second year, consisted of establishing a set-aside of half the year’s grant funds and stipulating that only applications submitted by two or more NGOs from two or more countries would be eligible. Although this apparently resulted in submission of proposals that met this requirement, it is unclear whether real working relationships will result or whether this is merely a shotgun wedding approach that will yield only temporary cooperation. It is a test of the potential for increased region wide cooperation that falls outside the norms of grant making elsewhere and that would be totally unacceptable to NGOs in most countries.
The norm for NGOs elsewhere is to enter voluntarily into mutually beneficial collaborative relationships and initiatives. The normal arrangements are working groups, coalitions, and networks and they often receive enthusiastic foundation support. It would be totally unacceptable for a foundation active in the international arena to force two leading environmental NGOs (the Sierra Club and the Environmental Defense Fund, for example) from one country or two from two or more countries (one from the United States and one from Canada, for example) to submit a joint proposal for a joint project. The norm is for one NGO to submit the proposal and to include other NGOs (also academic institutions, government extension workers, etc.) as cooperating partners. This may also provide an opportunity for an experienced NGO to involve a less experienced NGO in a project as a cooperator, giving the subsidiary NGO valuable help and needed experience.
The World Wildlife Fund (U.S.), for example, has been implementing a multi-year Great Lakes pesticide reduction project that includes a long list of U.S. and Canadian NGO, government agency, university, and U.S.-Canada joint action groups as cooperators. WWF raises and accounts for the funds, provides the staff and an advisory committee, takes full responsibility for arranging meetings and reports, and coordinates the project’s many activities. The International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements (IFOAM), established more than 20 years ago, is a different model for inter-boundary cooperation between NGOs that has been highly successful. Its experience is not directly applicable to the EGP’s needs but it demonstrates that inter-boundary cooperation can be highly productive if the NGOs involved enter the relationship voluntarily and share a common purpose. The National Sustainable Agriculture Campaign, a foundation-supported drive to reform farm programs now underway in the United States, involves one grantee and more than 500 separate farm, consumer, environmental, animal protection, church, farm worker, and other national, state, and local nonprofit organizations.
Gaining inter-boundary cooperation should remain a high EGP priority but its difficulty and limitations should be acknowledged. It is important for the REC to recognize that NGOs have their own institutional development concerns such as staking out a niche for themselves in terms of both program expertise and regional coverage, competing for the financial support needed for their own financial viability and growth, achieving an individual organization image and credibility, and in choosing nonthreatening and like-minded organizational collaborators. These concerns are even more pressing in the CEE region due to financial uncertainty and a perceived need to remain totally independent.
The EGP uses its financial leverage to force grantees to comply with program and financial reporting and implementation standards that are in line with international NGO norms. This is resisted by some CEE NGOs who contend these requirements are too strict for organizations still struggling for financial and institutional viability. The grantee files reflect this continuing, and sometimes adversarial, struggle to obtain final program and fiscal reports that can be closed out. To some extent these are judgment calls and program managers could make life easier for themselves by being less strict. But the files suggest they have not done so.
The REC is fortunate to have managers who insist on full compliance and patiently and persistently guide these projects to successful closeouts. The REC is making an important contribution to the development of viable NGOs in the region by setting, and forcing adherence to, standards that meet interntional norms. It should be recognized that the high cost of grants management is due to a great extent to the fact that each grantee, in effect, receives a year-long workshop in grants implementation and financial management along with the grant itself. The NGOs who meet these standards put themselves in a strong position to compete later for grants from foundations and other sources with similar high standards.
The EGP for Sustainable Agriculture, like the other EGP programs, has had to make choices about how its grantmaking subject areas and priorities are determined. Some have argued that the Earth Summit commitments made by governments and international agencies and institutions provide the subjects and priorities needed to guide the grants program. Others contend that the content and the priorities should be determined on the basis of the kind of proposals submitted by NGOs, needs assessment information solicited from NGOs in the region, and similar grassroots input. In addition, the REC has its own commitments to responding to its sources of funding and to carrying out its mission in the region.
This issue is before the REC again in the form of a suggestion that the Earmarked Grants Program be replaced with a cooperation without competition approach be taken. It would put the REC in the position of determining which topics would be considered for funding, hand picking potential grantees and helping them develop and propose projects, and providing assistance in the implementation phase as well. Consideration of this kind of change should be indefinitely postponed. Instead an approach that combines the best elements of these bottom-up and top-down approaches should be examined.
One way would be to continue the current Earmarked Grants Program for Sustainable Agriculture at a slightly reduced level of funding and to take the balance of the funding and earmark it for an annual special initiative. This would be a topic selected by the REC staff for maximum regional impact and NGOs would be invited to submit proposals dealing specifically with this topic area. The initiative could be projects that involve cooperation with farmers and consumers, for example, or that involves differet approaches to farmer training. The REC actually did this earlier when it solicited proposals for development of an eco-agriculture data base in selected countries.
Another possibility for combining bottom-up and top-down is to initiate a pre-proposal process in which the REC would solicit proposal outlines from NGOs and select out the most promising proposals for submission of a full proposal. The EGP staff would, as they do now, decline to provide guidance or other assistance during the final proposal preparation period. This would maintain the grassroots input process and allow the REC at the same time to provide some guidance over the type of proposals to be considered for funding. This process is widely used, both formally and informally, by foundations and government agencies and other funders in other parts of the world and should be acceptable to CEE NGOs.
The extent to which the EGP for Sustainable Agriculture takes responsibility for reaching all potential grantees with call for tender announcements appears to be left to chance under current procedures. As pointed out earlier in this report, it is too easy for NGOs to fall between the official REC cracks. It is not enough to suggest that they may see the announcement in the bulletin, the local REC office may let them know, they may see it on the Internet, or someone may tell them about it. The best solution would appear to be a mailing list that draws on all available sources (NGO Directory, EGP files of those applying in the past, the eco-agriculture data base, etc.) and that is updated regularly. It is unclear in the REC administrative structure where the final responsibility lies for preparation and systematic maintenance of a sustainable agriculture NGO mailing list. The success of the program depends on it, however, so the responsibility should be nailed down.
The title used on the sustainable agriculture tender and the information explaining the program are important to potential applicants. The 1994 tender stated it was seeking sustainable agriculture projects that reduced the pollution potential on the input side and the output side, that studied environmental problems originating from the privatization of agriculture, and that dealt with special problems small-scale farmers will face. The proposed projects, from an environmental NGO point of view, sounded quite conventional. It could have been improved by giving it a title that portrayed a strong environmental quality call, such as Ecological Agriculture, and drawing more on environmental rhetoric. It also could have noted that sustainble agriculture, as used, included organic, biodynamic, ecological, and other types of environmentally sound farming. The title in 1995, Rural Development, seemed even more diluted from an environmental standpoint.
Program Application Guidelines
The general program announcement for the EGP (Earmarked Grants Program Proposal Guidelines), including the description of earmarked grants and the terms and conditions, is first rate. So is the publication (How to Write a REC Project Proposal) that provides a step by step guide to the preparation of project proposals.
The review process used in selecting projects to be funded is straightforward, systematic, transparent and fair. However a review of the EGP for Sustainable Agriculture files suggests there are some small changes that could be considered to help assure that the objectives are met.
The first is the lack of a requirement for inclusion of a literature review or some other type of systematic check to determine whether the project proposed duplicates work already done. Determining whether the REC or some other funder has already financed something identical or similar now is the responsibility of the outside expert and the EGP staff. The application preparation guidelines should be amended to include a review requirement and a statement saying the applicant has determined that the proposed project is new. This is especially important for projects that fund preparation of generic educational packages (developing marketing outlets for organic food, for example) that are standard. In many instances a search will disclose that something has already been done and that all is needed is translation and/or other adaptations.
It would seem appropriate as well, in view of the many problems associated with financial reporting, to require some type of evidence of the applicant’s fiscal capability and accountability. Providing a bank reference as evidence that the applicant actually has a bank account and a banking relationship and including information on whether the organization’s accounts are audited regular or whether tax returns are filed would be helpful. The name of the person in the organization who is, and will remain, responsible for budget and fiscal matters also should be required. It appears that the responsibility for fiscal responsbility falls too heavily on the EGP’s program managers, that some of this should be shifted to the applicant, and that applications that include this kind of information should be given a better score.
Requiring NGOs to provide all this information and to submit receipts as well is not the norm for funders in many other parts of the world. This is not because the organizations are more financially viable or responsible. It is because strict filing requirements of tax agencies, legal responsibilities placed on board members, and routine annual audits provide safeguards. When these kinds of safeguards are missing, as they are in the CEE region, the need to gather other kinds of information on financial responsibility seem appropriate.
The norm for U.S. funders of sustainable agriculture projects, both foundations and government agencies, is to require active involvement of farmers in shaping the project and carrying it out. Farmer involvement tends to make a project more practical and realistic, helps assure that applicants proposing projects relating to farming actually work with farmers, and helps assure that the results will be disseminated to the intended users. The EGP should consider the possibility of providing bonus points for proposals that demonstrate some kind of farmer participation.
It also is unclear why all general environmental criteria on the scoring sheet are treated as if they have the same value and, as a result, receive the same number of possible points. It would seem that the environmental impact categories, for example, could provide only a few points of the total score while the clarity of results categories could earn many more. Further, many of the items listed (budget allocations, followup, etc.) are not environmental at all.
The normal procedure for most funded projects in countries where the NGO sector is strong is to implement the project without any funder supervision, to seek permission for any significant budget changes, to provide copies of any products turned out during the project period, and to file a comprehensive final report that includes a breakdown of how the money was spent. The job of the EGP managers would be much easier if those were the norms in CEE countries. What actually takes place is constant monitoring, repeated reminders of missed deadlines, concerns about missing financial documentation, and reports that barely meet requirements.
One innovation carried out to try to deal with this is the winners meeting, where successful grantees are brought to the REC to get acquainted with each other, to describe their projects and respond to questions, and to meet with program managers for last-minute instructions and document signoffs. The question is whether the right time for a winners meeting is at the beginning, the mid-point, or the end of a project period. Under the present system the manager meets with the project director at the beginning and then must rely on the director’s willingness to respond to inquiries and a shaky communications systems for the balance of the implementation period. The only leverage left is the ability to slow or stop project payments or to pull the plug on the project.
A review of the project files suggests that the EGP should consider having the winner’s meeting six months after the project is approved. By that time project directors presumably would be able to describe the project much more fully, discuss problems that almost always develop and work out acceptable course corrections with project managers, present an acceptable written progress report, and discuss the project’s fiscal documentation and accountability. This would provide managers with additional leverage and oversight opportunity, greatly reduce phone calls and correspondence during the implementation period, make certain all cooperative and other commitments are being met, and make it possible to identify problems long before the project’s scheduled completion date.
The project summaries now provided by grantees seem to fall far short of what is possible. Although their purpose is to provide information on project results, many of them actually contain very little information useful to others. A review of Grant Project Summaries: Volume 2, for example, shows that the summaries of impact and achievement often are one or two sentences long and relay little information. They frequently use phrases like a working group was created or contacts were improved or awareness of belonging to a group was provided. When the REC provides $15,000 or more for a project, it seems reasonable that a comprehensive summary of useful information generated should be provided. It may well be that EGP staff members will have to help prepare these summaries. The projects do provide the name and address of a contact who can provide further information. It would be much better to have a project report that included all the information that might be useful to other NGOs and this possibility should be explored.
There is little evidence that the REC has an effective program for disseminating the results of funded projects. The project summaries, even though inadequate, apparently are not sent automatically to NGOs known to be interested in the subject. Although publishing summaries in a volume is a good approach, the summaries may be out of date and the project contacts no longer there when the published information becomes available. A master list of videos, guides, and other materials produced by funded projects also should be available and the cost of obtaining copies, if any should be included. The norm in countries where NGOs are well established is to provide lists of publications resulting from funded projects, to prepare and sell comprehensive reports, and to seek publicity for project results.
Finally, it should be acknowledged that such major funding sources as foundations and government agencies avoid making small grants and all the problems normally associated with dealing with new and emerging NGOs. The REC deserves praise for carrying out such a difficult assignment in the region. These small grants also help in giving the REC an annual reading on needs perceived by NGOs, provide an interface between the REC and NGOs, provide continuing education to NGOs in program and fiscal management, and help NGOs gain REC project experience that will enhance their changes to gain funding later with foundations and more conventional sources.
V. Proposal Themes and Patterns
Proposals dealing with agriculture and the environment and submitted to the REC since it was established provide a rich source of information about NFO activity in this topic area. The number of good proposals, far more than could be funded, document a high level of interest and activity related to a needed transition to environmentally sound agriculture.
Since only 32 proposals could be funded with the money available, this analysis of themes and patterns is based on all of the proposals submitted in the general category of sustainable agriculture. The proposals coming into the REC provide a valuable and continuing needs assessment in this topic area and show the large number of NGOs willing to handle a sustainable agriculture project in the region.
The main theme of the proposals, including the 126 submitted in 1994 (eight funded) and 1995 (nine funded) is ecological agriculture. Although the EGP declined to put an ecological agriculture label on this program, the NGOs in effect have done so. This should be highly encouraging to a regional environmental center supported by governments that came together in Rio and made a strong commitment to a global transition to more environmentally sound agriculture.
The range of proposals submitted falls well within the international norms set by organic and sustainable agriculture NGOs at the Earth Summit. They include institutional development of organic certifying organizations, direct farmer to consumer organic food marketing systems, raising public awareness of the environmental and other benefits of choosing organic food, the full range of organic agriculture publications, model organic farms, natural fish production and model ecological ponds, ecological agriculture education centers, dissemination of ecological agriculture information, organic farming workshops and lectures, organic management of meadows and orchards, local small-scale processing of organic food, organic farming organizing as a rural development strategy, an ecofarm clubs network, organic food demand surveys, networking with western organic food and farming associations and advisers, and ecological agriculture databases.
These proposals also articulate some of the reasons ecological agriculture is suitable for the region. It is suggested in several proposals, for example, that this is the only kind of agriculture that should be carried out in environmentally sensitive areas and in areas where agricultural runoff goes into polluted rivers like the Danube.
Another theme that appears in a large number of proposals, including some that focus primarily on ecological agriculture, is eco-tourism. Several proposals state that this is a good way to supplement the income of organic farmers and to introduce vacationing city people to ecological agriculture.
Despite the enthusiasm of many NGOs for eco-tourism projects, and the claims that it can benefit organic farmers, the REC should seriously consider whether these projects actually would do much to enhance environmental quality in rural areas or to make agriculture more environmentally sound. The additional traffic on narrow roads, noise, trash dumping, pressure on already inadequate village waste treatment facilities, and other associated problems may well outweigh any potential environmental benefits.
A business association based in the Netherlands is active in the region promoting eco-tourism. A strong case can be made for eco-tourism as an economic development approach, especially for small villages, or as a way to help in the development of individual small enterprises. It seems questionable, however, whether funds earmarked for projects that help make agriculture more environmentally sound should be siphoned off to support eco-tourism.
A number of proposals also deal with other topics compatible with ecological principles. They include projects that focus on biodiversity, which as preservation of rare livestock breeds and endangered wild plants and animals and old-time food crop varieties, and on composting and other waste treatment and recycling approaches.
Some of these proposed projects would take models that work elsewhere and adapt them to CEE situations. Projects of this kind are better than those that, in effect, propose to re-invent the wheel and should be encouraged. The organic farm-housewives project network being developed and demonstrated in Budapest with REC support, for example, is patterned on the highly successful Seikatsu Club Consumer Co-ops in Japan that now serve more than 220,000 households.
One serious agriculture-based pollution source that has not been adequately addressed is the livestock section. Huge factory-type milk, pork, beef, egg, and poultry operations dominate this sector in most CEE countries and produce mountains and lakes of solid and liquid manure. Manure handling alternatives, especially those that turn a waste problem into a resource opportunity, are used in the West and clearly are needed here. Even more important is support for models that re-distribute livestock and poultry in small units on the land. The EGP should make a special effort to generate proposals that deal with this serious and growing problem.
The activities called for in most proposals suggest most NGOs are still operating at an elementary level in terms of what they propose to do. The emphasis seems to be on education and training (workshops, winter courses, lectures, training manuals, seminars, eco-centers, and conferences), on raising public awareness (videos, magazines, leaflets, brochures, books, and posters), and on promoting economic activity (marketing surveys, eco-tourism reservation services, and small-scale processing.
There is a pressing need to begin trying to ratchet these NGOs up another notch so they begin to work together voluntarily in collaborative efforts, to propose information sharing networks, and to participate in joint policy formulation and in policy influencing campaigns. What they are doing now is, to a great extent, getting warmed up for the role NGOs traditionally play in the public policy arena. More needs to be done to increase their capability to actually start pushing bureaucrats in the right direction in the environmental arena and to begin influencing policymakers and public policy.
The proposals reflect substantial differences in the capability and maturity of CEE sustainable agriculture NGOs. The most innovative and effective tend to be from Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary. Those in Albania, Macedonia, Croatia, and Slovenia tend to lag behind. The NGOs in the other six countries are somewhere in the middle. It seems important, therefore, to encourage the local grants program to try to help bring small, struggling, and inexperienced NGOs up to a level where they can handle an EGP on sustainable agriculture project.
It is important, for similar reasons, to continue to be willing to provide funding for more than one project for the most innovative and mature NGOs. REC support of two Galgafarm projects since 1991, for example, has helped build this NGO to the point where it has received preliminary approval for a large PHARE grant to support its model organic farm. Without the REC’s help, it is highly unlikely this step up to a major outside funding source would have occurred.
A review of the proposals involving sustainable agriculture also shows the need to help make NGOs more aware of what other NGOs are doing. A site visit to the REC-supported Sokoro Ecological Park Foundation in Gyor, for example, disclosed that this NGO was engaged in a serious but largely unsuccessful search (including REC’s library) for information on using aquatic plants for wastewater treatment. The review of rejected proposals, at the same time, disclosed that another NGO, not far away in the Czech Republic, had completed a similar search successfully and had received assistance from a Western expert. What this suggests is that proposals, whether funded or not, can be used to help develop cooperation between NGOs unaware of each other’s work.
VI. General Program Recommendations
The four sections dealing with REC’s constituency, current NGO and sustainable agriculture norms and trends, EGP guidelines and procedures, and project trends and patterns contain suggestions for various kinds of changes and course corrections. This section will pull out some of these suggestions and present them as general program recommendations. These are the ones that should have EGP staff attention and consideration:
1.. One main mailing list of sustainable agriculture NGOs in the CEE region should be prepared, updated regularly, and used to make certain these NGOs receive copies of tender offers, project summaries, and other helpful information. This list should include I) all organizations in the NGO directory that designate sustainable agriculture (or similar phrase such as environmentally fit farming) as an interest or activity; 2) all NGOs that have submitted sustainable agriculture project proposals; 3) all CEE NGOs on the eco-agriculture data base; 4) all NGOs on lists in this evaluator’s 1994 report, and 5) all CEE NGOs listed as members of the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Producers (IFOAM).
2. A systematic method of interfacing with other NGOs operating in the region that support and/or promote organic and sustainable agriculture should be established or upgraded. It appears that there is little or no contact between the REC and organizations like IFOAM, World Wildlife Fund, and others that also are working for the common goal of making agriculture in the region more environmentally sound. A mutual exchange of information about funded projects, both to avoid duplication and to identify areas of cooperation between the funded NGOs involved, would appear to be one important benefit. This interfacing should include occasional meetings and exchanges of publications and reports.
3. The working relationship that exists between the REC and the region’s environmental ministries should be extended to include the ministries of agriculture. Several agricultural ministries in the CEE region, and those in Poland and the Czech Republic and Hungary in particular, have agro-environmental divisions that work on follow up to the Earth Summit and promote environmentally-sound agriculture. Most also handle important areas like organic standards. Many also cooperate regularly with organic and sustainable agriculture NGOs. The EGP, working with other appropriate REC offices, should identify these agencies within agriculture ministries and establish communications and an exchange of information. The ministries of agriculture are highly important because they shape and administer most of the policies that sustainable agriculture NGOs, with the REC’s help, will be trying to change.
4. The REC needs to make a much greater and more systematic effort to develop a mutually beneficial relationship with sustainable agriculture NGOs in the CEE region. It needs to be more pro-active in cultivating the 100 or more sustainable agriculture NGOs in the region that help the REC carry out its overall mission. In addition to identifying all of these organizations, the REC should distribute a simple both sides of a legal size sheet of paper newsletter two or three times a year that includes brief items on model projects, upcoming events, resources generated by NGOs in the region (videos, training manuals, etc.), organic and sustainable agriculture reports from outside the region that would be useful, and other helpful information. The REC, in effect, would be both upgrading and targeting its information exchange effort. This would supplement grant and other assistance designed to strengthen these NGOs and help make them more effective. It also would help establish the REC as a strong and helpful partner in the overall regional environmental effort.
5. The REC should consider selecting a small number of administrators from larger NGOs in the region and arrange to have them spend an internship/fellowship period of a month or so at a leading grassroots-based U.S. NGO. Several U.S. sustainable agriculture NGOs are among the best-managed and administered NGOs found anywhere. NGOs like the Land Stewardship Project in Minnesota, the Center for Rural Affairs in Nebraska, the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute in Wisconsin, and the Land Institute in Kansas are operated by professionals who demonstrate effective fundraising, policy influencing, and collaboration skills and have total credibility with the foundations that provide much of their support. It may be difficult for many NGOs in the region to realize how far they fall short of meeting international norms regarding areas like fiscal management and policy formulation until they can see for themselves how others, often young people like themselves, do this professionally, routinely, and effectively.
6. More needs to be done to upgrade the fiscal management of CEE region NGOs and to create a positive response to EGP managers trying to establish and maintain standards. The first step would appear to be finding a way to shift the burden of financial responsibility from EGP managers to the fiscally responsible person in the grantee’s organization. It is unrealistic to suggest that CEE region NGOs be required to immediately meet international norms (board-approved budgets, certified audits, etc.). But they should be required to furnish a little more documentation of fiscal responsibility each granting cycle and be eligible to receive extra scoring points when they upgrade their level of fiscal responsibility. As noted earlier, it will be extremely difficult for NGOs in the CEE region to obtain grants from foundations and similar sources, especially U.S. foundations supporting international work, until these higher standards are met.
7. The EGP on sustainable agriculture should view the policy-related activities of organic and sustainable agriculture NGOs in other parts of Europe as the model for CEE sustainable agriculture NGOs. NGOs in European countries outside the CEE have a strong reputation in the international sustainable agriculture community. The policies and programs planned, or now in effect, to deal with agricultural pollution and to facilitate conversion to more sound environmental farming practices in their countries are innovative and practical and some are viewed as international models. Strong government commitments to organic farming, pesticide reduction, manure management, and similar programs were the result of NGO policy formulation, political persuasion, collaboration with non-agricultural NGOs, and mobilization of public opinion. Although similar work has been done in places like the United States and Canada and Australia, it does not necessarily fit the European experience or conform to historic and cultural considerations. If CEE governments begin to adopt some of the innovative organic and sustainable agriculture programs and policies promoted by NGOs and pioneered by countries like Sweden and Germany and France and the Netherlands, the EGP on sustainable agriculture and the REC will be well on their way to fulfilling their mission.
8. The set-aside of half the year’s grant funds for applications submitted by two or more NGOs from two or more countries should be shelved. Although this generated proposals that met the two-or-more requirement, it is unclear whether these coerced cooperative arrangements will flourish or if they will last only as long as the grant period lasts. In any-event, they are outside the norm for NGOs and most NGOs elsewhere in the world would reject them. The overall objective of cooperative partners is highly commendable. A better approach would seem to be to award extra points in scoring for projects that involve real collaboration with other NGOs (and other types of partners as well) in joint efforts. The EGP should facilitate a period of courtship for NGOs before moving to what in many ways is a shotgun wedding. A collaborative arrangement entered into voluntarily is the NGO norm and should be encouraged here as well.
9. The EGP should continue to use its financial leverage to influence CEE grantees to adopt and maintain program implementation and financial reporting and accountability standards that conform to international norms. An organization like the REC might conclude that it could develop a warmer and more productive working relationship with NGOs by relaxing these standards. But this, in the end, would serve the interests of neither the REC or the NGOs involved. The high standards involved in the EGP’s grant administration and reporting procedures are appropriate for a regional environmental center funded by governments, which in turn require the REC to meet international standards. More relaxed standards, on the other hand, may be appropriate for the REC’s local grants managers as they work to upgrade the small and evolving NGOs.
10. The cooperation without competition approach being discussed by REC managers should be set aside as inconsistent with international norms for making grants to NGOs. The REC would leave itself open to claims that it wants to give its funding only to tested and experienced NGOs for REC-apointed projects and that it is turning down good applications from new or relatively unknown NGOs. This is an especially important consideration in a region with so many new and evolving NGOs and so little grant funding available. This approach runs the risk of overlooking the most innovative proposals from smaller or lesser known applicants struggling to get established. Giving priority to handpicked or house NGOs by REC and, in effect, helping manage their projects to assure success, is a significant issue that could tarnish the EGP’s excellent reputation for fairness and transparency. There is good reason also to question the REC’s capacity to select the right topic for a cooperation without competition project, for selecting the right combination of cooperating NGOs, for achieving the right balance of control and responsibility in implementation, and in getting the best overall result for the level of funding expended. This takes on the characteristics of an operating foundation and, for the most part, large foundations avoid this approach. This looks too much like an attempt to develop showcase projects that may look good to REC donors but may have little beneficial environmental impact in the region.
11. The EGP should consider adoption of a two-phase project review and award system for sustainable agriculture proposals. The first would be a pre-proposal phase where 2-page proposal summaries are screened by EGP managers and advisers and only NGOs submitting the strongest proposals would be invited to submit full proposals. The weaker ones would be weeded out and the NGOs submitting them would be advised that they are out of the competition for the cycle and could apply again the following year. This system has been used successfully for several years by the U.S. SARE and Agriculture in Concert with the Environment programs. NGOs submitting weak pre-proposals would be spared the work involved in preparing a full propoosal that had no chance of being funded.
12. The EGP should require inclusion of a literature review or evidence that some other type of systematic check had been made to determine whether the proposed project would duplicate work already done. The application preparation guidelines should be amended to include a review requirement and a statement saying the applicant has determined that the proposed project is new.
13. The EGP should require applications to include more evidence of the applicant’s fiscal capability and accountability. Providing a bank reference as evidence that the applicant actually has a bank account should be required as well as the name of the person in the organization who is, and will remain, responsible for budget and fiscal matters and for submitting the final financial report.
14. The EGP should consider awarding extra scoring points for proposals that demonstrate farmer involvement and/or participation. NGOs are often criticized for carrying projects that impact farmers without discussing them with farmers or having any farmer involvement. Farmer involvement tends to make a project more practical and realistic, helps assure that applicants proposing projects relating to farming actually work with farmers, and helps assure the results are disseminated to the intended users.
15. The system used for scoring sustainable agriculture proposals by the EGP should be revised. The current practice is using the same scoring sheet for all grant program categories. This may suggest a high degree of fairness but it may not be successful in selecting the projects that would make the greatest contribution to making agriculture more environmentally sound. It appears to be possible with the current system for a well-written proposal that meets all the standard requrements relating to things like budget allocations and followup plans to gain the highest score without demonstrating any beneficial impact on either agriculture or the environment. There are many good reasons for tailoring the scoring sheets for sustainable agriculture and other categories to be sure points are awarded for specific beneficial impacts.
16. The EGP should consider holding the winners meeting six months after the project implementation cycle begins instead of at the beginning. By that time project directors presumably would be able to describe the project much more fully, discuss problems that almost always develop and work out acceptable course corrections with project managers, present an acceptable written progress report, and discuss the project’s finances. This would provide EGP managers with additional leverage and oversight opportunity, reduce phone calls and correspondence during implementation, make certain all cooperative and other commitments are being met, and make it possible to identify problems long before the project’s scheduled completion date.
17. The EGP should either upgrade the project summaries prepared now or initiate a new one-page final project profile that actually reports what was done, what the results were, why that is important, and how the results can be used. Although the purpose of the current summaries is to provide information on project results, many of them actually contain very little information useful to others. Summaries of impact or achievement that are one or two sentences long are of little value. Dissemination of project results is an important component of grantmaking activity and the way it is done now at the REC falls far short of what is needed. In addition the current project summaries, even though inadequate, apparently are not sent automatically to NGOs known to be interested in the topic or working on it. Although publishing summaries in a volume is a helpful approach, the summaries may be out of date and the project contacts no longer available when the published version becomes available. A master list of videos, guides, and other materials produced by funded projects also should be available and the cost of obtaining copies, if any, should be included. The norm in countries where NGOs are well established is to provide lists of publications resulting from funded projects, to prepare and sell comprehensive project reports, and to publicize project results.
18. The EGP should give a new title to the grants category that has been labeled both sustainable development and rural development. Calling it the Enviromentally Sound Agriculture program would do much more to convey the purposes and hoped-for benefits of the projects funded. The purposes and benefits have been diluted with the titles used, especially the rural development title, and it may not have been clear to NGOs that the program’s environmental impact was the leading factor.
IX. Strategic Options
The review of the activities of the Earmarked Program for Sustainable Agriculture suggests three possible paths for the future. One is a steady upward course option, one is a pro-active option, and the third is a pro-active special initiatives option.
The Steady Upward Course Option would continue the basic grants program, now in its second cycle, and make some changes that represent little more than course corrections. These include selecting a new program title (see Recommendation 18); developing and using a sustainable agriculture mailing list (see Recommendation No. I); providing for annual tender and project summary mailings (see Recommendation No. 17); adopting revised proposal requirements (see Recommendations 12 and 13); adopting a pre-proposal approach (see Recommendation No. II), and initiating an NGO management fellowship program (see Recommendation No. 5).
The Pro-Active Option would include all of the changes proposed in the Steady Upward Course Option and add the following: I) establish a sustainable agriculture newsletter (see Recommendation No. 4); 2) develop report profiles for all completed funded projects (see Recommendation No. 17); 3) provide an annual outside funding opportunity update, and 4) provide an annual Europe environment-agriculture policy update.
The outside funding update would be an attempt to make available to NGOs basic information on other funding sources such as the PHARE program. Rather than have each of them them initiate a search for this kind of information at some point, it would be helpful to gather and distribute this information on behalf of all of them. This also would encourage them to compete for foundation, European Union, and other funding that becomes available outside the region.
The annual Europe environment-agriculture policy update would be an attempt to encourage sustainable agriculture NGOs in the region to initiate some policy formulating and influencing activity and to take guidance from the continuing work of NGOs in Europe. Many of the model public policy approaches for organic and sustainable agriculture have originated in Western Europe (see Recommendation 7). Many of them would appear to be appropriate for CEE countries. An annual report of no more than eight pages updating these policy initiatives and reporting on their success or failure would be adequate and helpful.
The Pro-Active Special Initiatives Option would include all of the features of the Steady Upward Course Option and the Pro-Active Option and add a special initiative feature. As noted in Section IV in the discussion of unresolved issues, this would involve earmarking some of the EGP funding for an annual special initiative. This would be a topic selected by the REC staff for maximum regional impact and NGOs would be invited to submit proposals dealing specifically with this topic area.
The initiative could be projects that involve food security or urban agriculture, which are rapidly evolving activity areas on the international NGO scene, or that involve cooperation with farmers or that involve different approaches to farmer training. The REC actually did something similar earlier when it solicited proposals for development of an eco-agriculture data base in selected countries.
This would include a separate reporting meeting of each group of special initiatives winners and a report incorporating and, hopefully, drawing some overall regional conclusions from their project results. The idea here is to have an annual special initiative theme that enables NGOs to work together in developing some regional expertise in selected theme areas. What we have now is one NGO with a good project in one area one year and another NGO with a good project in the same area the following year. There is no development of a critical mass or awareness of joint interest.
The REC should consider putting the Steady Upward Course Option into operation immediately, the Pro-Active Option in 1996, and the Pro-Active Special Initiative Option in 1997. The Pro-Active Special Initiative Option may well be one that could be marketed to an outside funder each year.