Baselines are a key component of monitoring, learning and evaluation (ML&E). Normally, baseline data are collected at the beginning of a program or project so that the future impacts can be measured against the situation beforehand. In other words, it serves as a benchmark for project success.
At the programmatic level, the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) implements baselines in all its core sites; starting in South Asia, West Africa and East Africa in 2010–11 and continuing with the new sites in Latin America and Southeast Asia in 2014–15.
The main aim is to monitor key behavior and practice changes over time. In the case of the CCAFS baselines, however, the goal is not to attribute changes to a particular intervention. Instead, the studies simply observe the changes and gauge whether farmers’ resilience is rising or falling. This will help to prioritize future research, and will also support partner relationships. Partners and colleagues from other organizations are working alongside CCAFS at all the survey sites, and all are part of the big picture of research for development. Thinking in terms of contribution, rather than attribution, is key.
The CCAFS baselines are conducted at three levels—household, village and organizational. Once the three studies are combined and then repeated 5 and 10 years down the road, it will offer a before-and-after photo of the conditions and capacity of farmers, communities and institutions to face the challenges of climate change.
- The household baseline consists of a questionnaire related to household size and assets, sources of livelihood, natural resources management, strategies related to crops, livestock, agroforestry management, as well as food security and risk, sources of information, and social networks.
- The village baseline consists of focus group discussions aimed at mapping out gender-differentiated information about the state of natural resources, and the vision that communities have for their future environment. It also captures perceived organisational landscapes and explores information networks.
- The organisational baseline is based on interviews with organisations that are active locally, to explore the supply of services and information that those organisations give to communities and whether climate change is prioritised in local agendas.
Analysis of the baseline data provides the opportunity to match constraints, community priorities, organisational agendas and resources, and to gauge the extent to which important agents contribute to addressing short- and long-term problems. This in turn will help identify any gaps that may exist in the actions and strategies that individuals, communities and organisations take to enhance their capacity to adapt and reduce the risks associated with, a changing climate. This is one way in which the baselines are helping CCAFS to prioritise research and monitor changes in livelihoods at its core sites.
The success of the baselines relies on local partner organizations and institutions implementing the studies at every site. The work has given CCAFS an opportunity to reach out to important local players, and the relationships established here have become long-term partnerships moving well beyond the baseline work.