Seventeenth Session

Rome, 31 March - 4 April 2003

Independent External Evaluation of the Special Programme for Food Security

1. In response to requests of the Governing Bodies and to meet internal management needs, an evaluation of the Special Programme for Food Security (SPFS) was undertaken in 2001 by a representative team of nine senior external consultants1. The evaluation was to provide a credible accountability report on the SPFS and to enhance the knowledge base for future learning, by identifying emerging issues, strengths and weaknesses.

2. The evaluation team identified a number of unique strengths that could be built upon for future programmes, including the SPFS’ role in nurturing national consciousness about food security and how it had fostered national ownership of SPFS initiatives; focussing discussion on agriculture, food and nutrition within debates concerning poverty; emphasis on participatory approaches; need for a multifaceted approach to agricultural development and a focus on helping women through agricultural production diversification activities.

3. The evaluation identified several lessons from past activities, including an early “micro” oriented production focus that was changed over time to a better, more flexible programme design; emphasis on high-potential areas which addressed issues of national food security but had less impact on individual household food security; and too short periods of implementation and small numbers of sites for Phase I programmes. In its field observations, the Evaluation Team found that there was evidence of adoption of technologies by farmers who had directly participated in the SPFS, but less evidence of continued use after the demonstrations or adoption by farmers who had not participated. The evaluation also questioned the advisability of distributing free or subsidised inputs as this could affect sustainability after the SPFS initiative ends.

4. The evaluation recommended alternative future approaches to the SPFS, including prioritisation among countries to be supported, in view of the limited resources that could be made available; and greater priority to household food security with more focus on marginal areas. It also identified areas within SPFS activities that require greater explicit attention, i.e. consideration of seasonality; environmental issues; gender equality; linkages with other donors, development agencies and farmers’ organizations; meso- and macro-level institutional and policy issues; and acceptance of a longer time-frame for achieving impact. It also recommended that a specific exit strategy be designed for each country for handing over responsibility at the end of the implementation period and that the SPFS devote more attention to food security mapping, improving monitoring and evaluation and better matching of country needs with available technical and human resources.

5. The FAO Senior Management response focussed on the evaluation’s recommendations for strengthening the SPFS in the future. It pointed out three areas – relating to the process of innovation, prioritisation of countries and the impact of the SPFS on national policies – where its perception differed from that of the evaluation team. It agreed fully with the evaluation recommendations on the need to balance micro-level production measures with meso- and macro-issues in programme design, with the need for more sites and longer time frames for Phase I activities and with a need to revise the SPFS guidelines, to ensure that they are widely accessible and used.

6. The Programme Committee, at its 87th Session in May 2002, found the evaluation to be independent, thorough and objective and welcomed the positive response from FAO management to draw on the evaluation in reinforcing the SPFS2. The Committee emphasised the need for national ownership and broad stakeholder involvement and how to address household food security within the context of the SPFS. The Committee appreciated that FAO management intended to put into place a more effective and practical monitoring system for SPFS activities. It also requested a follow-up report at its May 2003 session on progress made in introducing the changes that management had referred to in its responses to the report.


1 PC 87/4 a) "The External Evaluation of the Special Programme for Food Security"

2 CL 123/11 "Report of the 87th Session of the Programme Committee (Rome, 6-10 May 2002)"