E Co Sound bites: Conversations with AEs Episode 2 Transcript – The Micronesia Conservation Trust

17 June 2021, Category: All insights, E Co. Sound bites, News

This is the transcript for Episode 2 of Conversations with Accredited Entities: Climate resilient food security for farming households in the Federated States of Micronesia with The Micronesia Conservation Trust. You can listen to the full episode here.

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About this episode

Project: Climate resilient food security for farming households in the
Federated States of Micronesia

Organisations: The Micronesia Conservation Trust

Podcast Speakers: Dr Grant Ballard-Tremeer – E Co., Willy Kostka and Lisa Andon – The Micronesia Conservation Trust, Dr Lili Ilieva – E Co.


Grant: Great pleasure to have both of you here in, in this call. And congratulations on the approval of the project at Board Meeting 28. That’s a really great achievement. Could we start off by you, telling us. a little bit about the project, what makes it different, what makes it unique for you?

Willy: Thank you. So we’ve had a number of food security projects in the FSM. But they’re usually very targeted, and focused on you know, just regular agricultural activities. And none of it is at this scale, that the new GCF food security project is trying to address. So, of course, the fact that this current food security project actually has, you know, climate adaptation built into it. And so that’s the difference between what we’ve had in the past projects funded by either FAO or others that usually are targeted to a certain community and doesn’t really scale to the level at the National, the whole, the nationwide level that we are focusing on. So with this project, we’re trying to support about 68,000 people, which is a large number of our population here. And so, it’s not just about helping farmers, you know, improve their farms, but it’s also about training them and in terms of being able to identify and plant more resilient species of resilient crop species, it’s about building their business skills. And then, so that they can sustain their efforts. It’s also about providing the science, the climate science, to help them, you know, be able to develop the farms in a way that maximises the yield going forward. And we’re also working to really organise these groups into what’s called The Partnership Guaranteed System Farmer Groups, so, they are registering as small businesses, because we want this to be sustained beyond the life of the project. And so they will be getting business training and also making connections to the markets, so to the private sector, to the restaurants, as well as to the public. 

We have the hospitals that provide food to patients, in-patients, the people who are admitted, we have schools that are providing lunch programmes. And so we want to be able to, you know, organise it in a way that the farmers are able to sell, produce their crops and sell them and also use them for their own use, as well. So we are working with the government and the College of Micronesia, FSM’s entrepreneurial programme to support these trainings.

Grant: Wow, it sounds like quite comprehensive programming. You were saying Willy, that the outset that one To the features of it is the size of the project that there’s been projects that have perhaps been less targeted, not climate change oriented. And at this sort of scale. Could you tell us a little bit about your organisation and how you’ve got to this stage where you’re introducing this project that brings around, you know, potentially is such a big transformational change compared to other types of programmes in the past?

Willy: Yes, thank you. So we’ve been around since 2002, as an organisation that supports work across Micronesia. So that’s in the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of Palau, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the two US territories, Guam in the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands. And we’ve been supporting coming in the projects since our inception, and so we are, you know, expanding our services to support. We started out as a conservation organisation only, but we’re now starting to do more sustainable livelihoods work. And so this food security project is part of our library, which programme to support our communities in the FSM. Now, you know, this project is not a project that we, it didn’t come from MCT. It’s actually part of the FSM Country programme strategy. They were the, I believe FSM was the first to submit a country programme strategy. At least from the Pacific, we were the first and they listed 10 project ideas. And one of them was a fortunate purity project idea. Now we had to take that idea, and then turn it into this more robust project proposal. And so, yes, even though we didn’t come up with the original idea, it was prioritised by the government and other stakeholders, and we just took it and expanded it to where it is today.

Grant: Right at that time, when you picked that up, was Micronesia Conservation Trust working in that area? So it was a natural extension? Or is this something that takes you into new territory as an organisation

Willy: Well we had begun to work with farmers to organise them prior to this project idea, you know, we’ve been working with them. We have an organisation, here, a private company. I guess it’s a semi autonomous private because it was started by the government, it’s, it started out as a petroleum, the FSM Petroleum Corporation, and they’ve become Vital, their name is now Vital, and they are looking into more renewable energy work and there’s a there’s also a priority in the FSM to revitalise our coconut farms in the FSM. And so we were working with Vital to organise these farmer groups so that they will be able to trade with Vital and they are now trading coconuts with Vital, show we’re expanding that to involve more crops other than just coconuts, we have with them what’s called the Coconut For Life programme in the FSM. And they are now using or producing soaps and oils and other things from the coconuts that the farmers are trading with them. So they’re really looking into going into a more renewable energy direction. And that’s how the partnership began. But then when the idea for the food security was submitted by the FSM we saw it as a good fit to you know it, expand, work to give the farmer groups more diversity of, you know, agricultural crops they can plant and also use for their own food security as well as sell when they have access. And so it’s sort of falling in place as we move forward.

Grant: Okay, yeah, that it’s really a homegrown project, isn’t it? It’s something that was in that original country programming plan from the FSM. And, you know, it’s a coherent sort of work that you’re doing, that you’ve been doing. That’s something that, you know, we don’t see very often. This was to use the GCF’s term, the Direct Access project, in the last board meeting? What is it that you see as the end? How did that come about in terms of the country ownership and such like, what, what would you be recommending to other direct access entities in terms of how to get that high level of alignment with what the country is looking for?

Willy: The Micronesia Conservation Trust is always done work that’s aligned with the government’s priorities. We have been working with the government since our inception, and we don’t plan to, you know, go away from that, you know, partnership that we build with the government. So in terms of, you know, whether and how to advise other direct access entities, I would say that it would be good to try and get involved in the planning phase where the, especially when the country programme strategies are being developed, and where the priority project ideas are also being developed. Because then you can, you can also insert ideas in that process. And that’s an and we’ve been involved throughout the whole process in the development of the country programme strategy, as well as the development of the project ideas. And we’ve been very fortunate in Micronesia, that the NGO community has been invited to many of the, almost, all of the consultations that take place in the different sectors that we are involved with.

Grant: Right, yeah. And in terms of your background, how did you get involved in this work? And you’re the executive director of Micronesia Conservation Trust? How did you, what brought you into this particular sector?

Willy: Yeah, so I was actually with the Conservation Society of Pohnpei prior to coming and working for the Micronesia Conservation Trust. And in fact, I was one of the founding members of both the Conservation Society of Pohnpei and the Micronesia Conservation Trust. So while I was the director of the Conservation Society of Pohnpei, I was also serving as a board member for the Micronesia Conservation Trust. So we had hired a person to be our executive director, and it didn’t work out. So the other board members asked me to step down from the board and then become the director of the Micronesia, Conservation Trust. And I’ve been doing it since 2006. Now, Lisa was on the board, who’s our Deputy Director, who’s on the call, she was hired prior to my joining the staff at MCT. And so yeah

Grant: So Lisa, you’ve been involved even longer than in the operational side of the organisation.

Lisa: Yes, sorry. Yes, I joined, I think 2004, I believe 2004 as the deputy director, and Grants programme manager. There were just two of us, myself and our finance officer at the beginning. And then Willie joined in two years later.

Grant: Okay, what brought you into this sector.

Lisa: I’ve actually been in cultural resource management prior to that at the state government here in Pohnpei. But when this opportunity was announced, it was really exciting to me and I talked to my husband, and we agreed that to take the risk and leave permanent employment at the state government to pursue this because it was exciting and important, and it was a privilege to help get it off the ground.

Grant: Okay, fantastic. But then you at some stage both decided, I mean, this is jumping forward quite a long time, I guess you both decided to become accredited to the GCF as an organisation. Can you tell us a little bit about that story? How did you go from the work that you were doing to identifying GCF, and going through that process of accreditation?

Willy: You know, we’ve always had to go through other accredited entities to access, you know, the grants from the multilateral donor agencies. And we were finding that, you know, they, it’s quite cumbersome to go through those other accredited entities. And, you know, we also felt that we built enough capacity within our organisation to try and become a direct access entity. And we also wanted to go through the process, really, to see where we are, and whether we would qualify, and to help us improve ourselves. So when we decided to go for accreditation, first to the adaptation fund, and then later on to the GCF, we actually said, If even if we don’t get accredited, it’ll still be quite a capacity building exercise to go through. And it wouldn’t hurt anyone, for us to spend the time to learn through the process. And at the same time to improve our own policies, because we had improved so much of our policies going through the process, that at the end, when we weren’t sure we were going to get accredited.

When we look back, we said, wow, you know, if we hadn’t gone through this process, we would probably be still lacking in terms of our own policies, especially on environmental social policies and gender. And, and that’s where we really felt that just going through the process of accreditation, had improved our organisation considerably. And then so the accreditation itself was sort of a bonus. A nice ending to what we had decided to go and do. And now we are able to work with our governments directly, and access, and governments and communities, to develop these projects. And go directly to the agencies, I mean, to the donors, we were finding that a lot of times when we’re going through the other accredited entities, we spent a lot of time teaching them, you know, what needs to take place. And so you’re doing both the development of the proposals, as well as if you get people who are not familiar with your region, as well as a lot of time spent on explaining to them why certain things work and why certain things don’t work. And now, we don’t really have to do that because we know what works and what doesn’t work and we can just work with the stakeholders here, and lead the process of designing these projects that make sense for our region.

Grant: It’s just such a fantastic story to hear, Willy, because you’re seeing this difficult process of accreditation as a real positive thing. So many organisations see this as a barrier to get through. And it sounds to me the way you told us that you see this as an opportunity and even that the process of addressing those challenges, is a learning one, which brings benefits to you. I haven’t heard people like that.

Willy: And we also promised our stakeholders, especially the people in the communities, that we will do our best, and work as hard as we can to get them the resources they need. And so going through the pain of accreditation and going through the pain of developing these proposals, at the end of it benefits our people who are suffering from the impacts of climate change, then it’s quite worth our time.

Grant: Yeah, Fantastic. Fantastic. The process of getting this proposal approved, it’s a SAP proposal, Simplified Approval Process. And I can see from the documentation you submitted originally in November of 2019. And the version that went to the board was submitted in December of 2020. So that’s a year and a little bit. And then there must be a lot of work that went into that sort of process. And I wonder, Lisa, or Willy could give us a sort of the story of this particular project. Willie, you’ve told us already that it came from the country programming side of it, but then what happened? How did you go from this project idea into the funded proposal, what was that process?

Willy: Yeah, so we had to work with a lot of different partners. And first, we had to get the national designated authority, which is the FSM, Department of Finance to agree to let us become the accredited entity for this particular project. And then we had to work with the Department of resources in development. And the Department of Environment, climate change, and emergency management. Those are the two departments within the national government that are mandated to do climate change and sustainable development work. And so you know, we are to get them also to agree to letting MCT be the implementing entity and then they would be the accrediting entities. And they welcome that because the government didn’t want to know what it would take to become accredited itself and decided not to go for accreditation. And once we started discussing the proposal, and the need to have the build mechanisms that would sustain it beyond the life of the project, we decided that it would be great to bring in the College of Micronesia FSM because they have, you know, the capacity to do business trainings and all these other technical trainings, including they’ve, actually, their agriculture, well they used to call it agriculture, but they’re Resource Management Programme now, they’ve actually piloted a fort security project on one of the islands in Yap. And they’ve done that project for quite some time now. And it’s been quite successful.

So we wanted to get them into the fold, to be able to provide that resource. And that’s how, you know, we were able to pull the team together and of course, then the consultations that took over a year, you know, to actually sit down with the stakeholders in the different states and really get input from not just state resource agencies, we also got the non government organisations and the civil society organisations, like women’s groups and youth groups as well as the farmers groups that we’re talking about. So it was a long process. But we wanted to make sure that everybody was aware of what we were proposing, and that they would support it.

Grant: Great, thank you. In that process, what did you find is the most challenging aspect?

Willy: Yeah, well, in terms of the design of the project proposal, you know, very little research has been done in the FSM, or in Micronesia, on how climate change impacts food security. And so, you know, you don’t have the descaled data that you would need to, especially in the justification of the, you know, your climate rationale. And that was very difficult. And so we had to, we have to look at, you know, different areas in the Pacific as well as different regions, and, you know, what, in data and information help them in determining, you know, the types of activities and language that you would need in order to qualify your project to be GCF-able I guess, that’s what the word that we were using. And so, yes, so that was, that was really the difficult part, because everybody wanted to do it. But you know, we just kept getting pushed back on. Are these activities different out there?

Fortunately, the project that’s just focused on developing, you know, your, your farm, so your agroforestry systems? So, yeah, we had to, we had to do a lot of work on providing the rationale. And it seems to have worked because they finally approved the project.

Grant: You got a very impressive section of the proposal, on that climate rationale. Now. You’re saying they really, it’s a third aspect, which differentiates this project from being a development project to being a climate project? How did you solve that issue in the end? I mean, you’ve got lots and lots of information, lots of data, it looks really convincing. But that’s, that’s not easy for someone to put together. How did you do it?

Willy: When we did, we have been getting support from the US aid, the US AID as a climate ready project in the Pacific. And, and they’ve been supporting MCT with the development of the proposal, so they actually gave us some money to hire a couple of consultants to help us develop that rationale. Because, you know, just within MCT, we wouldn’t have been able to do it ourselves. And we also received a lot of support from the Secretariat itself as well. So we are very grateful for that.

Grant: Okay, so it was externally contracted work that you did and supported via the US AID. programme and your with some additional support from the secretary.

Willy outlined that is one of the big challenges in how to get that scientific and technical basis for the project well established and the process for it. What else did you, Lisa find challenging in putting together this project?

Lisa: I actually was less involved with the sort of, especially as we got further in, I was less involved with the sort of technical parts of it at the beginning of the discussion, I was part of, you know, talking about the project overall, and kind of, you know, informed helping inform the consultants of, you know, where we were coming from, and what we expected from the project, and so on and so forth. But as you know, it got more and more technical, I became more involved in the kind of implementation arrangements and procurement planning, and that kind of management and the proposal and how the project was going to work. And those were all very new and kind of a larger scale and a level of formality.

That is, you know, something that we’re kind of growing into that I haven’t been doing much. So it was a, it was, it was kind of a little, it was a pretty significant learning curve for me, you know, in terms of procurement plans and budgets, that were really specific and broken down in ways that I was unused to. So I think that was, for me, the most challenging, but it was also, you know, it was a great learning experience. And so I think, going forward, you know, the next proposal will be a little bit easier for me.

Grant: Yeah, that’s something that one learns from the challenges. But it makes one better in the future, to be able to respond to those sorts of things.

This project in terms of the process of the approval, at the end, the board meeting took place, there were long, drawn out discussions about some of the projects, but this was one of only two that had implementation agreements, the funded activity agreement signed within hours of its approval. How important was that for the project? And how did that make you feel?

Willy: Yeah I mean, you know, it shows that, you know, they do care about the people who are suffering from the impacts of climate change. And it showed that even small direct access entities like the Micronesia Conservation Trust, you know, would be able to, you know, develop proposals and submit to the GCF.  We were very, very happy about it. And, you know, we have had great support from the president of the FSM, all throughout this process, and, and, you know, it’s secretaries, it’s departments, and so it was, it was really great to get this approved.

Grant: Fantastic. Thank you. And, Lisa, during that process of approval, what were you doing? How did you react then, when you heard it, it’s been approved?

Lisa: I was so excited. Um, the, actually, because of the time zones, I think we will listening, we were tracking the meeting and kind of chatting on the side on Skype waiting for our turn to come up. And it was all fun. We were all in our individual homes, because it was the middle of the night. And I think it was about 3:30 that morning, when they approved it. And anyway, we’re bracing ourselves for tough questions from the board. And, you know, the MCT team that was actually authorised to be participating in the meeting was like getting nervous. And then our number came up and I don’t think they asked a single question and they approved it. And we all kind of shouted on Skype to each other that was great. And then went to bed and slept until like noon the next day. It was but it was a really great experience.

Grant: That’s fantastic. Yes. Especially I guess, after so much effort being put into putting it together, that’s, you know, it’s got its rewards when there’s success at the end.

For you, Lisa, what would you,we heard earlier from Willie that you would advise sort of building that long relationship with the government and the government programmes, etc. What would you advise to other direct access entities in terms of accessing GCF funding?

Lisa: Yeah, I mean, definitely everything that Willy’s already said I think I would just say,  to just hang in there and ask for help and accept help, you know, from anywhere and everywhere. We had so many people support us with this you know, climate ready, the Secretariat, our government partners. And, you know, invariably you know we would ask somebody for something and if they didn’t know they tell us you know who to ask. Like, getting all of those studies was a big project. There was a lot of work that went into it and couldn’t have done it without asking for help and then just sticking to it because it, you know sometimes it looked like it was going to be impossible but the team did it. 

Grant: Fantastic, thank you. It’s useful to know a little bit about. We have some quickfire questions, and I was wondering, anyone that knows me, knows that I love to read. Lisa, what are you watching or reading at the moment?

Lisa: I’m addicted to murder mysteries and I just finished Elizabeth George’s latest. I think, wait, it’s like I’m behind but I really enjoy her books. So murder mysteries. Okay

Grant: All right, thank you, I’ll hopefully look that up. I’ll give that a go, sounds good, and Willie, how about for you?

Willy: I’m reading the subsidiary, and CO financing agreements between MCT and the executing entities. 

Grant: Wow, okay.

Willy: So, Lisa lent me, the Michelle Obama’s “Becoming”. My mom took it away and read it. So my mom took it and read it. And so I’m just getting to it now.

It’s been a while, I haven’t had much time to read as of late, because of all these, you know, projects that we’re working on, but ye, I also love murder mysteries as well. But I also like true stories so those that inspire. 

Grant: Okay, well you’ll get a lot out of Michelle Obama’s book “Becoming”, I think, when you get a chance to read that when you’re not reading funding agreements and executing entity agreements and such like. I think. What for you is your favourite food Willy?

Willy: Well. You know we’re, we have breadfruit season just, We just did our very first. You know, what’s the word Lisa when you’re giving your first breadfruit to your chiefs. This past Saturday because their breadfruits are starting to ripen and ripe breadfruit in the stone oven is my favourite local food.

Grant: Sounds interesting. I hope I get the opportunity to try that sometime. Lisa for you?

Lisa: Well, yeah. The breadfruit is amazing but my husband also makes really really good sesame with a coconut cream and then you know whatever herbs we have in the yard if we have some lemongrass or some, you know, chives or whatever, spring onions, it’s really really good.

Grant: Sounds great. To go back to climate projects or projects in general and what other projects would you like to see happening in Micronesia?

Willy: What we’ve just submitted another concept to the GCF. But this one covers FSM, Palau and the Marshall Islands, and it’s to help really scale up community based adaptation. It’s going to be an ecosystem based adaptation project with a large focus on capacitating our local non-government organisations, local governments as well as the civil society organisations. Grant, the absorptive capacity in Micronesia is still quite lacking. We have a lot of people who want money, but we don’t have a lot of people who can actually implement projects on the ground and do a really good job so this, Grant is really to help these community based organisations, local governments be able to develop their capacity through the implementation of adaptation activities. So it’s a doing by, sorry learning by doing project. 

Grant: Fantastic.

Willy: That’s the other GCF project that we’re working on, and it’s really based off of our adaptation fund project that we are implementing right now going towards the end of it, which was focused in FSM so we’re trying to scale that throughout the FSM as well as to Palau and the Marshall Islands. Lisa when did we submit it, was it two or a week or?

Lisa: Two. Yeah, like two weeks ago.

Grant: Alright, so really fresh. That’s the one as well Lisa that you would highlight in terms of some other projects you’d like to see in Micronesia?

Lisa: Oh, I’m really excited about this.

Willy: We have a ton. I just mentioned this one because it’s a GCF funded project but we also have a private foundation out of the US that invited a proposal from us. I submitted on Monday. And those are a lot faster. They don’t, they don’t want more than 15 pages, which is different from the GCF.

Grant: Well, it’s always this opening paragraph on the Simplified Approval Process template which says the proposal should be no more than 20 pages long. But your proposal that was approved, you’re still in the private rationale section of the proposal, Section B two I think it is by page 20. So, yeah, I understand she said projects get a lot longer than intended.

Alright, well, I wish you huge success, both with the implementation and the delivery of this project, and also with all those other initiatives that you’re developing and putting together. Really hope all of that goes really well. If you have any words of encouragement for others that are trying to go through this process and what words would you give to others – Direct Access Entities trying to access climate funds.

Willy: Well, you know, when we started, because we’re such a small organisation. They had to basically GCF had to create an alternative accreditation track for us. Because we’re such a small organisation that didn’t have an auditing function and within MCT there was, there’s like 13 of us. And when we became accredited, there was like nine or 10 of us. And so we’ve sort of placed that new trail, which allows for other small organisations like us to be able to apply. And so I think it’s possible. And people shouldn’t get discouraged when they’re applying for accreditation and they shouldn’t get discouraged when they’re applying for grants as well. Just as Lisa said, just be determined, and just keep plugging away at it, and I think because we were always responding to the GCF on time, every time they gave us a deadline, we made those deadlines. And so that, I think it pushed us and pushed our project further up the line than if we defaulted on some of those timelines.

Grant: Thank you. 

Willy: Yeah, I don’t remember ever sending anything in later than what they asked for, and in some cases we were sending it in earlier.

Grant: It’s very impressive, some of those deadlines can get very challenging, responding to comments addressing. that.

Willy: Yes, especially from their side.

Grant: Okay, well thank you very much and congratulations again to both of you. Really appreciate your time coming to speak with us today and good luck with the implementation of the project.

Grant: I’m joined now by my colleague, Dr. Lili Ilieva, who is a senior consultant here at E Co. Lili is a specialist in climate adaptation with a track record in climate information systems and an ecosystem based adaptation. Lili, welcome. What did you make of that discussion?

Lili: Thank you very much, Grant. First, I wanted just to mention how motivating it was to hear this interview. What struck me was what two things actually one is the holistic approach that has been taken in order to prepare this proposal and the design of the project activities. taking in consideration elements from the social and economic and ecological factors of a complex system and making a very comprehensive adaptation project, which is bringing not only adaptation benefits to the vulnerable community, but also addressing other underlining vulnerability aspects. So this is one thing that was really interesting to see working so well. I would say the next thing was that you could really sense also from the interview and going through the proposal, this very bottom up approach that has been taken, it’s very visible, how the cultural aspects have been integrated, how the specific needs of the beneficiaries have been included in the in the proposal, and how the adaptation actions are addressing these very specific needs. So yeah, this is something that it’s really unique to see in project proposals, especially coming from a direct entity access entity.

Grant: Yeah, it’s remarkable in those discussions, how, you know, they’ve gone through a lot of hard, hard, hard work to get there. But it, you know, this project stands out as one where there’s such strong country ownership. And where it really responds, the responsiveness to the needs of recipients was one of those investment criteria, it just stands out? It’s, it’s a real model of direct access entity, isn’t it? It’s what you really want from a direct access entity.

Lili: Right? Yes. And actually, it was very interesting to hear how this whole process of accreditation has been seen so positively, now that it brings lessons learned for improvement on different levels. And not necessarily just with regards to being able to access funds, but just internally and organizationally. This has enriched the organization, so it’s, it’s very exciting to hear the success story.

Grant: Yeah, they looked at every obstacle as an opportunity. And, you know, it really long period of putting the proposal together, was it 300 days, something like that, of putting that proposal, but they were just seeing it positively. And there’s an opportunity to strengthen the processes internally to really go somewhere with it. And what they’ve produced as a proposed project is, one which responds to needs, it’s grounded in real needs, you can see that it’s a civil society organization taking this forward with real ownership. Great to see. 

Lili: Absolutely.

Grant: Well, thanks very much. Really good to speak with you. 

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    Heinrick Stevenson, member of Pohnpei COVID-19 Task Force. at

    I am very impressed with the contents of your exchanges at the same time learnt more on the subject, Thank you.