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Impact Evaluations | May 17, 2024

Scaling and Replicating Sustainable Watershed Management: A Malawi Case Study

Scaling and Replicating Sustainable Watershed Management: A Malawi Case Study - A seven year post-ex assessment of watershed management activities in USAID’s funded project Wellness and Agriculture for Life Advancement (WALA) in Southern Malawi.

In 2009, Catholic Relief Services (CRS) led a consortium of NGOs to launch the Wellness and Agriculture for Life Advancement (WALA) project in Southern Malawi. The five-year USAID-funded project involved a suite of watershed, livelihoods and capacity-building interventions designed to reduce food insecurity and increase the resilience of 215,000 vulnerable households to climate shocks and stresses. Seven years after WALA’s conclusion, CRS commissioned the University of Notre Dame to conduct additional qualitative research in 2021,including fieldwork in Malawi between June and July 2021.  This synthesis report summarizes the Team’s findings and key learnings from its research. It includes an overview of the Team’s research activities, an analysis of the key drivers and barriers to success in watershed interventions, and several recommendations for future scaling and replication efforts.

Data collection for this evaluation occurred during an eight-week visit to southern Malawi by the Team in June and July 2021. The Team first conducted key informant interviews with representatives from several of the NGOs responsible for WALA implementation. Then, the authors visited seven “high-performing” and seven “low-performing” WALA communities where they conducted focus groups with community members and key informant interviews with extension officers, local leaders, watershed management committee members, and district agriculture and resource officials. Interview topics covered definitions of “success” from the perspective of community members, challenges to successful resource management, and recommendations for the improvement of future projects. An analysis of the data collected suggests that WALA watershed interventions can and should be scaled and replicated. Community members and leaders alike noted the impact of the watershed treatments on crop yields, water levels, soil quality, and resilience to major weather events. Drivers of this success include strong leadership, a shared sense of ownership amongst community members, and an understanding of the positive consequences of watershed management on local resources and wellbeing. Respondents also noted that further success has been constrained by several factors. These barriers to success include a lack of short-term incentives to motivate broader participation in watershed management before benefits are realized, a lack of coordination amongst key stakeholders, and the destruction of treatments by those who do not understand or appreciate the value of watershed treatments.

CRS could increase the likelihood of long-term sustainability of watershed management interventions by incorporating this barrier and driver analysis into future project design at the landscape level. Further, CRS should consider how future interventions can include short-term incentives in program design and better align farmer interests with watershed management objectives. Additionally, CRS can and should leverage the existing knowledge and influence of key community stakeholders, particularly local extension officers.