Volunteer works to standardize and simplify measurement and reporting across the Value Chains for Rural Development Project
I recently spent four months as a long-term volunteer working with Winrock’s Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) Team in Myanmar. This was my first time working as a volunteer for Winrock International. From the start, I was impressed at how well organized Winrock’s team was with logistics and making sure everything was smooth throughout the duration of my assignment.
During my assignment, I worked with the MEL Team and the project staff to review indicators for monitoring and evaluating the progress of the Value Chains for Rural Development project. M&E is an important function of a project and can serve as its backbone as it provides useful information about how the project is doing (e.g. what things are going well, what things are not going well, whether the project is on target in reaching expected milestones and outcomes, and where adjustments should be made). Ultimately, the information that is collected through M&E helps to tell the story of how Winrock’s Value Chains for Rural Development project is helping to improve the livelihoods of the rural farmers that are being reached.
It was exciting to already see positive results of the Value Chains for Rural Development project. Through agricultural training and demonstration farms, Winrock is working with farmers to raise the quality and quantity of their yields and ultimately their household incomes. The project has catalyzed and strengthened the mobilization of farmers into groups and associations, giving them a collective voice to express their wants and concerns and advocate to the government for the regulation of agrochemical companies, to hold them accountable to provide proper extension services, and control pricing and quality of chemical products. The Farmer Groups help farmers to bargain for better prices to purchase seeds, input, and equipment. The Value Chains for Rural Development project is also focusing on finding and establishing new market opportunities while helping to establish clear grades and standards that will create transparency around the prices that farmers receive for their produce.
One of the goals of my work was to standardize and simplify measurement and reporting across the five value chains that Winrock is working in, which include soybeans, melons, sesame, ginger, and coffee. Even though there are many similarities across these value chains, there are also big differences between the crops, such as the number of harvests in a year, input costs, amount of labor required, and the quantity and value of the yields. These details need to be accounted for to ensure that the data collected is thorough, reliable, and valid. In preparation for the project’s upcoming annual evaluation, the MEL team and I designed the survey questionnaires to ensure that the right questions are asked and tailor them to be appropriate for each value chain. After putting together the questionnaires, we headed out to the fields to test the questionnaires with the farmers. The process of field-testing the questionnaires highlighted the challenges of working in another language and the need to make sure that the wording of questions is as simple as possible and understandable when translated. Field-testing the surveys also revealed differences in reality versus theory. The feedback provided by the farmers was essential for modifying and finalizing the questions.
Myanmar is a beautiful country with warm-hearted people who are eager to learn and grow. The country is developing rapidly with conveniences and familiarity provided by global companies like Uber, Coffee Bean, KFC, and even Hard Rock Cafe. Trying to negotiate a fare and tell the taxi driver where you want to go used to be one of the most intimidating things about getting around town but now you can simply use an app. There is even an app to have food delivered by bicycle courier to your door. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of working as a volunteer with Winrock and plan to return to Myanmar to do another assignment soon.