Reflections on policy impact and capacity strengthening in IFPRI’s country programs

November 5, 2015
by Paul Dorosh

I had the opportunity to work in Dhaka, Bangladesh for four years as Chief of Party on IFPRI’s Food Management and Research Support Program (FMRSP). This project, undertaken in collaboration with the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS), began in August 1997 and was designed to conduct research, provide policy analysis, strengthen capacity of the Ministry of Food, and disseminate its findings.

IFPRI has a long history of outposting staff to developing countries to implement medium-term research projects and programs, policy advisory services, capacity strengthening, and outreach. This in-country presence provides opportunities for more in-depth research, rapid response to changing conditions, and capacity strengthening through sustained interactions that are generally not possible through short courses or conferences. While stationed in Bangladesh, I was able to witness some of the benefits and challenges of policy research and capacity strengthening firsthand.

The FMRSP I worked on was a follow-up to the USAID-funded Bangladesh Food Policy Project (BFPP), implemented from 1988 to 1994. Steve Haggblade served as the project leader at the time, and the project conducted empirical analysis and provided policy support leading to reforms in rice procurement, cereal import liberalization, and the introduction of the Food For Education distribution channel that provided incentives for rural families to keep their children in school. This project also helped establish the Food Planning and Monitoring Unit (FPMU) of the Ministry of Food that provided analysis of procurement, distribution, public stock levels, and market prices. One of the research assistants on the project, Shahidur Rashid, is now a senior research fellow in IFPRI’s Markets Trade and Institutions Division; three other RA’s went on to start a very successful survey firm in Dhaka, with which IFPRI continues to collaborate. Akhter Ahmed, IFPRI senior research fellow and current program leader of the Bangladesh Policy Research and Strategy Support Program, was the project’s Consumption Economist (and a freshly recruited IFPRI research fellow).

As it turned out, our initial research plans were quickly overtaken by external events. Only a few months after the start of the project, a short drought near the end of the monsoon season resulted in a 1.9 million ton loss to the aman rice crop, as grains did not fully form in many drought-affected rice plants. Market prices rose quickly, putting pressure on the Ministry of Food to intervene to stabilize supplies and prices. Our IFPRI team worked closely with key analysts at the FPMU to assess the needs for public sector commercial imports of wheat and rice, and to assess the potential for private sector imports to further supplement grain supplies. These private sector imports, actively promoted by the Government of Bangladesh through reductions in import taxes and relaxation of import procedures, stabilized domestic prices at levels equal to the cost of imports (the import parity price). 

A few months later, when the “flood of the century” caused even greater damage to the 1998 monsoon crop, private sector imports again greatly enhanced domestic supplies of rice and prevented a price increase of at least 19 percent that would likely have reduced calorie consumption of the poor by 44 to 109 calories per person per day (del Ninno and Dorosh, 2003). Our team also conducted a panel household survey of flood-affected households, leading to an IFPRI research report and other published research showing that private borrowing, equivalent to about one month’s normal expenditures, prevented a significant decline in household food expenditures, but this debt remained intact one year after the flood (del Ninno, Dorosh and Smith, 2003). 

Country Programs in the 2000s

In the 2000s, IFPRI set up several Country Strategy Support Programs in Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, and Uganda, programs explicitly designed to provide evidence-based policy advice on agricultural investments and other projects. Many of these projects were termed Strategic Analysis and Knowledge Support Systems (SAKSS) projects. Subsequently, three Regional SAKSS (ReSAKSS) were created and formally became one of the four pillars of the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Program (CAADP) under which African governments pledged to spend one-tenth of their budgets on agriculture.            

I rejoined IFPRI (after five years at the World Bank) in 2008 to lead the second phase of the Ethiopian Strategy Support Program (ESSP) in Addis Ababa. The initial phase of the ESSP, led by Eleni Gabre-Madhin, conducted research on cereal markets that ultimately led to the establishment of the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange in 2008. Under the second phase, IFPRI, together with researchers from the Ethiopian Development Research Institute (EDRI), continued a long-standing panel survey (the Ethiopian Rural Household Survey), analyzed price movements and wheat trade policy, supported a population atlas produced by the Central Statistics Agency (CSA), and built a Social Accounting Matrix and computable general equilibrium (CGE) model of the Ethiopian economy used to analyze impacts of public investments and other policies. Later, much of the work of ESSP phase 2 was published in an IFPRI book (Dorosh and Rashid, [eds.], 2012).

The Future of In-Country Research and Capacity Strengthening Programs

From the beginning of the Green Revolution, researchers linked with CIMMYT, IRRI, and other institutions that now form the CGIAR have engaged in capacity strengthening of national researchers and institutions. Initially, much of this capacity strengthening involved training agronomists, plant breeders, and other agricultural specialists (Hesser, 2006). Later, the Rockefeller Foundation funded fellowships to build capacity for social sciences in the CGIAR centers. Much of this early work focused on understanding farmer constraints and production systems. IFPRI also engaged in this type of analysis, but broadened the scope to include major efforts on food consumption and nutrition, multiplier effects of agricultural growth, and incentive effects of trade and exchange rate policies.

Institution building and capacity strengthening are difficult endeavors, however. Skilled staff in developing countries are usually underpaid, and working conditions are often better in the private sector and within international organizations. Migration to other countries− the so-called “brain drain”− also is common. For these reasons, despite substantial evidence of sustained impact over time, there is much still to be done. Training and capacity strengthening efforts remain a central part of IFPRI’s country-based programs. And the need for these programs in the countries where we work remains as strong as ever.


Ahmed, Raisuddin, Steven Haggblade, and Tawfiq Elahi Chowdhury, Out of the Shadow of Famine: Evolving Food Markets and Food Policy in Bangladesh.  Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000.

del Ninno, Carlo, Paul A. Dorosh, Lisa C. Smith and Dilip K. Roy. 2001. The 1998 Floods in Bangladesh: Disaster Impacts, Household Coping Strategies and Response.  International Food Policy Research Institute Research Report No. 122.  Washington, D.C.: IFPRI.

del Ninno, Carlo, Paul A. Dorosh.  2003.  "Impacts of In-Kind Transfers on Household Food Consumption: Evidence from Targeted Food Programs in Bangladesh".  Journal of Development Studies.  40(1): 48-78.

del Ninno, Carlo, Paul A. Dorosh and Lisa C. Smith.  2003.  “Public Policy, Markets and Household Coping Strategies in Bangladesh: Avoiding a Food Security Crisis Following the 1998 Floods”.  World Development.  31(7):1221-1238.

del Ninno, Carlo, Paul A. Dorosh and Nurul Islam.  2002.  “Reducing Vulnerability to Natural Disasters: Lessons from the 1998 Floods in Bangladesh.”  IDS Bulletin, 33(4): 98-107.

Dorosh, Paul A.  2001.  “Trade Liberalization and National Food Security: Rice Trade between Bangladesh and India”, World Development, 29(4): 673-689.

Dorosh, Paul A. and Shahidur Rashid, (eds.). 2012. Food and Agriculture in Ethiopia: Progress and Policy Challenges. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Dorosh, Paul and James Thurlow. 2014. “Can Cities or Towns Drive African Development? Economywide Analysis for Ethiopia and Uganda”. World Development 63: 113-123 November.

Hesser, Leon. 2006. The Man Who Fed the World: Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Norman Biorlaug and His Battle to End World Hunger. Dallas, Texas: Durban House Publishing Co.