Environmental and social safeguards 'screening' (Credit Adams Kwaw) 
Adams Kwaw

From frameworks to practice: World Bank environmental and social standards in CGIAR projects

CGIAR and partners put into practice the World Bank's Environmental and Social Framework for the very first time through implementation of Accelerating Impacts of CGIAR Climate Research for Africa (AICCRA).

Despite initial challenges, there are positive outcomes and constructive lessons to be shared from the AICCRA experience in its six focus countries across Africa.

The World Bank approved the landmark AICCRA project in 2021 to scale climate information services (CIS) and validated climate-smart agriculture (CSA) in Africa. The aim is to reach 1.5 million smallholder farmers by the end of 2023.  

AICCRA connects the science and innovation led by CGIAR—the world’s largest research partnership for food security—with the strategies and ambitions of Africa’s national, regional, and continental institutions.

AICCRA works in six 'focus' countries—Senegal, Mali, Ghana, Ethiopia, Kenya and Zambia—with regional initiatives to scale impact beyond them.  

AICCRA is hosted by the Alliance of Bioversity – CIAT (a CGIAR research center) and backed by USD 60 million grant delivered by the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA), a financial institution which offers concessional loans and grants to the world's poorest developing countries.

The unprecedented funding model for AICCRA came with explicit requirements for CGIAR and partners to implement the AICCRA project in accordance with the World Bank Environmental and Social Framework (ESF) – a first for the CGIAR.

CGIAR and partners implement a vast number of projects with their own set of rigorous environmental and social due diligence policies.

But the World Bank approach differs in certain, critical aspects.

With over 22 public and private sector institutions playing a role in the implementation of AICCRA so far, how the ESF was implemented in practice was a central issue for the project’s own measure of its success.

This blog reflects on that experience, sharing lessons for CGIAR and partners—as well as the World Bank—in implementing the ESF in a large, complex project across six countries and regional initiatives.

Managing environmental and social risk minimizes the ecological footprint of field projects

Given AICCRA aims to influence the adoption of CSA by farmers, it's crucial that demonstration sites do not cause environmental degradation, or endanger animal and human health.

E&S ‘screening’ involves the analysis of project activities and locations against risk factors identified in the ESF. The aim is to identify potential E&S risks and the impact of a project. An ESF mitigation hierarchy is then utilized:

  • Avoid risk
  • If not possible, minimize or mitigate risk
  • Where residual impact remains, compensate for—or offset—the risks. 

It is a collaborative exercise jointly conducted with project leaders and other stakeholders.

Such ‘screening’ at AICCRA project sites avoided many instances that could have led to the projects creating a negative ecological footprint.

While demonstrations of scientific innovations to farmers is central to the work of CGIAR, the outcome of E&S screening of demonstration plots under the ESF helped to clarify differences vis-a-vis the 'business as usual' workflow of E&S screening.

For example, ESF screening meant two proposed demonstration plots in Ghana were rejected, as they were located within a community resources management area. Use of the area for the project could have led to the felling of trees within a critical and sensitive ecosystem. Both sites had previously been considered acceptable under different E&S benchmarks more commonly used by CGIAR centers.

On a proposed demonstration plot in Kenya, AICCRA supported farmers to construct terraces that would have prevented erosion-induced sedimentation of water bodies and contamination from pesticides. Some of these were plots had previously been used by CGIAR projects for demonstrations, without using such methods to safeguard sensitive habitats nearby (at least, to the extent they met ESF criteria).

Because context differs, if you’re seeking to meet the ESF, consider screening sites prior to implementation to ensure projects conform to the standards expected of ESF.

Donation of farm safety notice (Credit Adams Kwaw) 

Broadening inclusion

AICCRA project indicators measure the inclusion of women and youth. But the ESF takes this work a step further by ensuring the inclusion of persons with disabilities in project activities.

For many partners on the AICCRA project, the idea of including persons with disabilities in project activities was a novel experience, since inclusion has previously focused on women and youth alone.

“Persons with disabilities have never been on our radar, we have never thought of including them in our extension services and neither have we tracked them in our global indicators on farmers reached… this could be a novelty, we will look out for them in our operational locations and ensure their inclusion in our operations and indicator count.” 

Sylvester Kalonge, Country Director, iDE Zambia.

The ESF helped extend AICCRA benefits to some farmers with disabilities.

Some 20 farmers with various forms of disabilities have participated in CSA learning sessions on diverse technologies across AICCRA’s six countries.

In Kenya, two disabled farmers hosted and coordinated CSA demonstration plots for the first time, with one of them attracting as many as 100 visits from other farmers.

Farmers with disabilities (Credit Adams Kwaw) 

Grievance mechanisms improve trust and make projects more responsive to beneficiaries

To implement the ESF, AICCRA decentralized its grievance structures, and opened communication channels to communities, which served as a robust medium for obtaining real-time feedback and helped improve the responsiveness of the project to its beneficiaries, drive relevant adaptations.

Periodic monitoring and surveys are the most common channels through which AICCRA obtains feedback from farmers.

CGIAR projects already operate grievance mechanisms, but normally for workers and stakeholders. Mechanisms have not yet been made easily accessible to farmers and other community stakeholders with the necessary levels of feedback that the ESF in particular demands. 

Managing risk facilitates learning and implementation

Translating the requirements of ESF standards for AICCRA into simple guides has proved useful in facilitating the learning and adoption of new practices.

Before the AICCRA's implementation, the World Bank meticulously prepared an easy-to-follow Environmental and Social Management Guide for the project, which set out practical step-by-step guidelines and templates for:

  • Identifying E&S risks
  • Considering mitigation measures
  • How to prepare relevant E&S instruments
  • How to monitor E&S measures
  • Reporting on E&S implementation progress

This guide helped many of the project team members (for whom ESF was a new competence) to quickly ascertain and deliver on the essential requirements.

Striking a balance with existing practices

Enforcing ESF requirements, especially on AICCRA field demonstrations, required striking a careful balance with existing collaborative research practices, and between scientists and farmers.

This delicate approach became necessary to avoid actions that could undermine future research collaborations. 

The project ensured farmers who offered plots for CSA demonstrations were not worse off, but did sometimes take different approaches to arrive at the same end.  

For example, whereas comparable market-rate rental fees were paid to farmers in Ghana for demonstration plots, farmers in Zambia received no such rental fees. Yet, the Zambian farmers were happy to offer their plots without expectation of rental fees, because of benefits accruing from related collaborative research projects.  

"We always do research with Zambia Agriculture Research Institute (ZARI) and iDE without collecting land rent, we are happy with that arrangement; such collaborations help us to obtain exclusive rights to sell their seed in our communities. This gives us more money than the rent fees we could have collected. I’m happy to volunteer my plot and so are my other colleagues.” 

Zambian farmer on AICCRA demonstration site

Flexible and adaptive mentorship is critical

Management style (though seldom discussed in ESF related literature) is very important in steering the implementation and adoption of ESF - particularly in new and complex projects like AICCRA.

Progress of ESF implementation in AICCRA has been driven by flexible and adaptive mentorship, instead of a ‘command-and-control’ style.

The Project Management Unit (PMU) has coached agile adaptations by team members in Project Implementation Units (PIUs) in AICCRA’s six focus countries.

This was particularly the case in the preparation of E&S instruments (as well as the implementation of key measures) and helped minimize the number of comments and feedback loops that needed to be addressed between PMU and PIUs. This saved time and avoided delays in project implementation.

This approach was also useful in boosting the enthusiasm of appointed in-country E&S specialists to quickly learn ESF requirements.

With channels of communication and an atmosphere which promoted openness and cooperation between the PMU and PIUs, project staff did not aim to conceal activities or information that could carry reputational risk for the project or partners involved. Instead, they actively shared all details, so mitigating steps could be taken to address any potential issues.

The implementation of the project and its Environmental and Social Management Plans (ESMPs) are still in progress, which means that—going forward—more lessons will emerge from AICCRA’s experience.

These will no doubt be of relevance to future CGIAR projects that could be guided by World Bank environmental and social standards.    


Adams Kwaw, AICCRA Senior Environmental and Social Safeguards Specialist