An example of technical plausibility in a flood response in Pakistan

SEADS Handbook Location: Chapter 8

The heavy monsoon rains experienced during the last week of July 2010 resulted in heavy flash floods in the mountainous region and riverine plains in the lowlands of Pakistan. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimated over 2.4 million hectares (ha) of cultivatable land were lost, affecting the livelihoods of 20 million households. FAO implemented a Rabi 2010 (winter) season agricultural intervention. The main objective of this intervention was that 455,881 households would cover part of their basic food needs after the season using the production obtained from the package provided by FAO. The intervention focused on the distribution of seed and fertilizer inputs for wheat and oats, but with some households also receiving support for canola, lentils, and vegetables. Although the contribution to production from these crops to basic food needs was not specified in the project objectives, it was still possible to assess the technical plausibility of the inputs leading to an impact on household food availability.

When considering technical plausibility, an initial question is whether the crop types were suitable and relevant to the target households. In the case of wheat, FAO recognized that this was the most important staple food crop in Pakistan and was planted on approximately 38% of all cultivated land. More important, wheat was planted on 76% of the Rabi cropped areas. Small farmers with 1 to 2 ha of land planted 81% of this land with wheat during Rabi and very small farmers, with less that 1 ha of land, planted 84% of their land with wheat at this time. It was also known that farmers were familiar with growing wheat, although less familiar with using certified seed. Using knowledge on potential wheat yields (with fertilizer use) and areas of land cultivated, FAO predicted that a sufficient level of wheat production was possible to contribute to household food needs. While this illustrates technical plausibility, the case for wheat-related support could have been strengthened by specifying the quantities involved at the point of project design. For example, what quantity of seed and fertilizer, used on what area of land and when, would likely lead to a specified yield?

In the case of this intervention, stronger information related to technical plausibility emerged later, during a project evaluation. For example, it was recorded that on average, 0.59 ha of land was cultivated, and average household wheat production was 1,352 kg (a yield of 2,292 kg/ha). This yield was viewed as consistent with the use of improved seed compared to own seed and represented an increase in production of 70%. Forty-nine percent of the wheat production was kept for home consumption, 19% was given to the landowner, 4% was kept as seeds, and the rest was sold, generating an average income of almost 9,900 Pakistan rupees (PKRs) per household. The availability of food stocks in the households increased from 264 kg just after the flood to 776 kg after the Rabi intervention, ensuring at least 159 days of food self-sufficiency; a 30% increase in the number of meals eaten per day; an 11% increase in the diversity of food group intake; and a reduction of households with debts from 62% to 32%.

FAO. (2012). An Independent Evaluation of FAO’s Response to the July 2010 Floods in Pakistan. Final Report. https://www.fao.org/fileadmin/user_upload/bodies/Progr_Comm/PC_110-documents/MC985E_PC110-6_EvaluationPakistanFloods.pdf.