From 3 to 10 April 2024, Ben Bennett and Natascia Palmieri, the team in charge of the Resilient Agrifood Systems (RAFS) Science Group evaluation, visited Vietnam to gather firsthand information about CGIAR’s activities in the country. After their return, the two met with other evaluators to answer questions about their initial impressions.

Q: How was this field trip structured?

Natascia Palmieri (NP): We divided up at the beginning of the mission, so Ben was in Dong Nai, in a region where some of the activities of the One Health initiative were taking place, meeting with some of the stakeholders both internal to CGIAR and external, and at the same time I was in Chan Tho, which is in the South, attending high-level events organized under two of the Initiatives that we are assessing. I was able to meet with some of the external partners involved in those two Initiatives and to have some interviews and focus group discussions with them.

After that, Ben and I reconvened in Hanoi, where we had a participatory workshop with staff from several different Initiatives. We also had one regional representative of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and some administrative staff, but mainly country focal points for the initiatives. There, we were able to talk about the strengths and weaknesses of the new setup in terms of Science Groups and Initiatives, compared to the past, and on the second day we had a joint elaboration of draft recommendations from the analysis. We then continued with some interviews with partners, mainly national government-level research institutes.

In total, 67 local experts, policymakers, partners, and scientists engaged in discussions with us.

Q: Do you have recommendations for other evaluators who are about to take similar field trips to other countries?

NP: Yes, my first observation is that it can be quite difficult to frame the interviews with external stakeholders. External partners didn’t know anything about Science Groups, almost nothing about CGIAR. Initiatives are quite well known in Hanoi, but when I was in the South, no one understood what the "Initiatives” were. For example, I was with someone from one university involved in one of the Initiatives, but the same university had several collaborations with the same Center scattered across several activities, so for him, it was difficult to focus on the specific activities that were under the agreement signed within the Initiative we were assessing.

Ben Bennett (BB): I can add to that. When you’re in the field, you often find that the person they put in front of you is the senior person in that area, who may have no knowledge whatsoever of a specific activity. The protocol says they have to bring out the most important man or woman in the area, who may not know the details of the agreements, so you’ll have to spend some time making sure that they are comfortable and understand the activity that you are actually talking about. It will be somebody likely more junior who’s out in the field doing the data collection and helping you drive around who understands the activity.

In the first half of the trip, I also spent some time talking to farmers and other people in markets and other beneficiaries. They were excited about the activities, but had no idea at all of the mountain of acronyms that appears in the background of all of these activities, so don’t expect them to understand what "Initiatives” are, because they’re highly unlikely to know.

Palmieri conducting a focus group discussion with extension service officers and farmers of the Green Cooperative. Photo: IAES Evaluation Function. 


Q: The findings of this visit will feed into the RAFS Science Group Evaluation, which will be completed in early June 2024, but can you give some initial impressions, starting with any achievements participants highlighted?

NP: Yes. First, we heard that the strengthened coordination and visibility of CGIAR’s efforts at the national level has fostered a more cohesive environment among the Centers, which previously operated too independently. In addition, the Initiatives have led to the endorsement of low-emissions guidelines for rice cultivation, and the development of Provincial-level climate advisory services. Innovations in food safety and the management of rice straw are making tangible impacts, with new funding raised from sources such as USAID confirming the heightened interest in CGIAR’s work.

The inaugural CGIAR Science Day in Vietnam, organized by IRRI under the Asian Mega Deltas (AMD) Regional Integrated Initiative in November 2023, was also highlighted as a best practice, as it provided a platform for in-depth discussions and presentations on the latest research findings and innovations from the CGIAR Initiatives in Vietnam, and underscored the role of CGIAR’s scientific research in shaping policy and practice within the agricultural sector in the country.

BB: In Vietnam, they’ve got quite a good national working group that evaluates scientific evidence and makes laws, and I was quite impressed by that. I think national working groups on big issues are a good way to bring all the stakeholders together, and to encourage people to use the evidence, and I think they’re doing a nice job of that. I know in other countries, this kind of structure doesn’t exist, so actually turning real, genuine, high-quality scientific evidence into a policy decision can be a tricky thing to do.

Q: What did you learn about challenges and areas for improvement?

BB: The narratives at different levels in the governance structure within the country were very revealing. From the point of view of a high-level politician, they are tired of people coming in with fundamental science and want to see practical results. It speaks to the constant question you have with this type of research, between pure and applied: when should you be investing in each? There’s no simple answer to that, but we kind of expect both of those things to get done one way or another.

NP: Integrating different initiatives at the country level has also revealed duplications and a lack of unified strategy at times. Partners also expressed a need for clearer ownership and understanding of the way Science Groups work, suggesting that more consistent communication and formal mechanisms for collaboration are necessary to amplify the impact.

We also noted that while the Initiatives align well with national policies, like Vietnam’s One Health Partnership, the actual integration into local and regional frameworks needs strengthening. “Each center following its own administrative procedures can sometimes hinder the unified approach we strive for,” said a participating local government official.

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