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Best Practices on Indigenous Knowledge MOST/CIRAN


Cooperation in economics research: combining capacities for successful projects


International agencies concerned with economic development often commission economic studies on specific topics in developing countries. Such studies typically use national statistics or surveys, supplemented with specific local information. In many cases, local institutions engaged in economics research possess relevant knowledge but lack the capacity to perform such a study without outside assistance. They need help with methodology or project management, for example. International research institutes, on the other hand, may be better equipped to perform a study, but they lack access to indigenous knowledge. Cooperation between international and local institutes can combine the capacities of each in order to achieve successful projects that make use of indigenous knowledge. Agriculture and institutional development are prime examples of research fields where the integration of indigenous knowledge at all stages of project implementation can significantly improve project results.

In practice, the results of such cooperation vary. Best practices are characterized by a cooperative spirit, a common purpose, and clear procedures from the start. Financial incentives encourage the local institutes to play an active part and to contribute indigenous knowledge that will ensure successful implementation of the study, and discourage them from coming back on their commitments.

The best practice for such collaboration has the following features:

  • It has focused, realistic and relevant objectives. Its terms of reference are well-defined, state a clear primary goal which is also the main criterion for project evaluation, and include a realistic timetable and budget.
  • It offers financial incentives oriented towards results. Except for the first allocation to start off the project, payments are made only after successful completion of project phases.
  • It offers its participants an intellectual challenge and increased respect. The project may include training or be related to PhD work, and it establishes a long-term relationship between the institutes involved.
For a better understanding of this general practice, we refer to a specific project in which it has been applied: "Rural Poverty Study of the Caucasus Countries". The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) had contracted the Centre for World Food Studies of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (SOW-VU) to conduct a study on the consequences of agricultural reform in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, with special attention for the new, private farms. The aim of the study was to collect information on the current status of private farming activities, and to identify target groups that IFAD can support in order to alleviate poverty and improve food security in the region.


COUNTRY: Example project: GEORGIA


Indigenous knowledge pertaining to the local situation can be used in each phase of a study. In the project described here, local knowledge of private farming was used to put together an appropriate survey sample and to adapt the questionnaire to local circumstances. Local knowledge of language, customs and institutions was used to increase the response to the survey and to improve the quality of the respondentsí answers. The survey itself collected indigenous knowledge on private farming. In the reporting phase, the presentation and analysis of data benefited from detailed knowledge of the local situation and its history.

Particular use was made of indigenous knowledge on:

  • natural conditions: geography, climate, soils;
  • farming: cropping patterns, livestock management, agricultural technology and assets, irrigation and drainage systems;
  • market institutions and informal arrangements for supplying the main agricultural inputs and for selling farm produce;
  • legal and institutional structures related to land reform, land tenure and land transactions;
  • social conditions, social services and social security;
  • gender issues.

Issues of environmental sustainability were addressed through the concern for ecological aspects of land management practices: soil erosion and salinity, the use of agro-chemicals, and the use of firewood for energy, for example.

Other aspects: increasing the capacity of local institutes for conducting survey research sustains their ability to preserve indigenous knowledge that can be put to use for development purposes.


The Rural Poverty Study of the Caucasus Countries was intitiated by an international agency concerned with rural development: the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), which will use the results for its own lending programme. The study was carried out by an international academic research institute: the Centre for World Food Studies of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (SOW-VU). Local institutes engaged in economic research were contracted for the local project activities: the Ministry of Agriculture in Armenia, AZSPETSPROMINVEST Consulting Company in Azerbaijan, and the International Centre for Development and Reformation of Georgian Economy in Georgia.

There are beneficiaries at several levels:

  • the international agency, which gains knowledge that is useful for policy purposes;
  • the international research institute, which learns about the local context of the study;
  • the local institutes, which are trained in research methodology and project management;
  • the recipient countries, which benefit from the eventual support of the international agency.
All cooperating institutes benefit during project implementation from the studyís clear objectives and from the fact that their contribution will be evaluated only in terms of their own results.

The relationships among the stakeholders and beneficiaries were as follows:

  • The international agency initiated the project and financed it.
  • The international research institute carried out the project, supplied the project methodology, and did the final reporting. A major element in the study was a survey among private farm households, for which a questionnaire was designed and computer software for data entry, correction and tabulation was developed.
  • The local research institutes possess knowledge of the local situation which was used in the joint effort to select the sample and adapt the questionnaire to local circumstances. More specifically, the local institutes supplied information on the agro-ecological zones (geography, climate, soils), on local farming systems (cropping patterns, livestock management, agricultural technology and assets, irrigation and drainage systems), on market institutions and informal arrangements for acquiring inputs and selling farm produce, on legal and institutional aspects (economic transition, agricultural reform, legal issues, customs, land reform process, land tenure, and land transactions), as well as on social conditions (education, health, housing), social services, social security (pensions), and gender issues. The local research institutes also translated the questionnaire to the local language, conducted the survey using their own contacts in the rural areas and their knowledge of local customs and institutions, and performed the data entry and correction. They collected additional information to supplement the survey data, and commented on the reports that were written.
  • All project contracts stated clear objectives. With the exception of the first payment, all payments were made only after successful completion of well-defined project activities, such as the survey itself, entry of the survey data in the computer, and submission of the reports.
The project team at the international institute consisted of four people, while the local teams each consisted of between four and seven people.



  • Focused, realistic and relevant project objectives make it possible to conduct a project efficiently, on schedule, and within the budget, since all participants know what results are expected and how their contribution to those results will be evaluated.
  • Objectives that are relevant to the international agency allow the project to be financed in the first place, while their relevancy to the global research agenda challenges the participants intellectually and fosters good-quality results. Relevant objectives also serve to focus the activities of all participants during project implementation.
  • Financial incentives oriented towards results will increase the effectiveness and efficiency of the project. Because the institutes involved are rewarded only following assessment of their contribution to the project results, they have a clear incentive to make sure that their contribution is on time and of acceptable quality. They also have some autonomy in their own activities during project implementation, which they can use to increase the efficiency of their work.
  • The intellectual challenge and respectability promised by the project encourages the selection of appropriate participants, and enhances their motivation during project implementation. In particular, training or possibilities for PhD work will satisfy their interest in learning, enhance their opportunity for gaining respect, and improve the quality of the project results.
  • When the international institute responsible for the project subcontracts work to local institutes, it loses some control over project implementation. Short-term cooperation between institutes does not allow them enough time to get to know each otherís weaknesses and strengths. There is then a danger that the main contractor will interfere in details of local project implementation, thus risking a reduction in the quality of the project results.
  • Contracted institutes may try to use their political influence to force payments to them. This should be prevented, since it reduces their incentive to make a valuable contribution to the project results.
  • The physical distance between project workers at the different institutes can result in misunderstandings about the work to be done. If these persist, they can endanger the quality of the results or even the results themselves.
  • Exclusive, long-term research cooperation between the same institutes can lead to complacency among the participating staff. This can be avoided by encouraging contacts with other institutes, for instance by submitting intermediate project results to external referees, or by creating opportunities for job mobility.
  • In general, the success of a research project is measured by the response of the client or funding agency, and by whether or not it decides to sponsor a follow-up. The current project has been completed successfully, albeit with some delay. The reports have been positively evaluated by the international agency. During project implementation all participating institutes geared their activities towards making the project a success by delivering the contribution expected of them.
  • Indigenous knowledge that was contributed by the local institutes improved project implementation and results, while the research capacity of the local institutes was increased.

This practice could be replicated on one main condition: that an appropriate local institute is present which has thorough knowledge of the local situation as regards the subject of the study. That institute must also be equipped with the necessary means of communication (telephone, fax, electronic mail, mail or messenger service).

The Centre for World Food Studies of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (SOW-VU) tries to replicate this best practice in all of the research projects in which it is involved. Its most recent endeavour along these lines is a research programme entitled "Sustainable Food Security in Central West Africa", which is being conducted in Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, Mali, and Togo.

Example project: from 1997 to 1998

For the example project in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia: in total USD 200,000.00(=109,281.44 p/year)




G.B. Overbosch
Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
E-mail: g.b.overbosch@sow.econ.vu.nl
(Address: see below)


Organization that provided this information:

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
Faculty of Economic Sciences and Econometrics
Centre for World Food Studies
1081 HV Amsterdam
The Netherlands
Telephone: 020-4449321
Fax: 020-4449325
E-mail: pm@sow.econ.vu.nl

Cooperating organizations:

Ministry of Agriculture of the Republic of Armenia,
48 Nalbandian Street
Armenia, 375010

54 Bul-Bul Avenue
Azerbaijan, 370014

International Center for Reformation and Development of Georgian Economy
415-419 rooms
#2, 26 May Square
Georgia, 380071

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