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Going Big Lessons on scaling up development projects B

y the early 1990s, after years of agricultural exploitation and unsus-

tainable herding practices, China’s Loess Plateau was a dustbowl where farmers could barely scratch out a living—except in the village of Shageduo. By replacing goat herding with walnut cultivation, Shageduo’s farmers had transformed their community into a thriving green land- scape. Tis approach looked like it could be a game changer for millions of people in the Loess Plateau, but how could it be carried out on a large enough scale?

Te “pebble in the pond effect” is how Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Johannes Linn describes a common fate of small-scale development projects. A project benefits a few people, and then, instead of expanding, it stays small or even withers away. “You get a bit of a ripple, and then later you have no idea it was ever there,” he says. Institutional barriers, political constraints, and the tendency to focus on project minutia rather than the big picture stand in the way of scaling up a successful project.

More than a dozen examples of scaling up—from the Peruvian Highlands to the West African Sahel—are described in Scaling Up in Agriculture and Rural Devel- opment: Lessons on Opportunities and Chal- lenges for the Future, a new set of IFPRI 2020 Focus briefs edited by Linn. Te briefs, with contributions from 36 authors with expertise in areas such as biofortifica- tion, nutrition, supply chains, community development, and agroforestry, show how scaling up can be accomplished by differ- ent actors, using different approaches, in different contexts.

Linn and the other authors suggest start- ing a project with a clear focus on the op- portunities for scaling up what works and then continually monitoring progress. Tis approach can help build the institutional support, effective policies, and partner- ships that make scaling up possible.

Te briefs, Linn explains, are not meant

to offer a blueprint. “It is an approach and a mindset,” Linn says. “I think the pieces clearly demonstrate that scaling up is not ‘pie-in-the-sky’ but something real that can be done.”

Te Loess Plateau rehabilitation project, described in one brief, illustrates the point. Building on Shageduo’s small-scale success, the Chinese government, with as- sistance from the World Bank, created in- centives for change by constructing wider, more stable terraces, instituting bans on grazing, and offering farmers long-term leases on land. Although a rigorous evalu- ation is still needed, the project appears to be more than a pebble in the pond: it is reported to have improved the livelihoods of more than 3 million farmers.

- Justine Williams & Ashley St. Tomas

LOESS PLATEAU, CHINA Terracing and other improvements trans- formed the Loess Plateau and proved that large-scale ecosystem rehabilitation projects are possible and replicable.


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