Policy interactions: Impact Evaluation of the Arenal Tempisque Irrigation Project

The use of scientific based information for decision-making is at the heart of the research agenda for the EfD-CA Center. In line with this is policy and program evaluation that can use to feedback policymakers in improving programs and reducing uncertainty. As a direct contribution to policy interactions between researchers and policymakers, EfD research fellows Juan Robalino, Roger Madrigal, and Catalina Sandoval will conduct a research project to estimate the impacts of the implementation of the Arenal Tempisque Irrigation Project (DRAT by its Spanish acronym). Their assessment will focus on impact on employment, income, education, deforestation, poverty, population density, and area under sugarcane and rice production. The project is funded through a collaboration between the Costa Rican government and German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ). 

Some historical background will help the reader understand why this evaluation is important for EfD-CA. During much of the 1980s, the Costa Rican government played a central role in the development of the country by providing many of the production activities and public and social services through public institutions. A lot of these activities were funded by borrowing, which led to an increase in both the external and internal debt. In consequence, the country experienced high inflation rates and other macroeconomic problems. The annual inflation rate in December of 1980 reached close to 18% and a year later it ramped up to about 65%; later on it return to more typical annual levels at around 10% and 20%.

After a period of economic stagnation Costa Rica’s development model changed into an export-led growth scheme. With this change came a series of interventions in the form of credit and infrastructure to help increase production from the private sector. One the major programs in place in that time was a land irrigation development plan for the lower part of the Tempisque River watershed in the province of Guanacaste.

Why the DRAT in Guanacaste?

The province of Guanacaste is the driest in the country with the longest annual period without rain during the dry season. In terms of area its sizes is about 20% of the country. The major economic activities that take place there are in the agriculture sector, among the most importance products are rice, sugarcane, watermelon, cantaloupe, and livestock. Water availability for these and other activities is essential to increase productivity of the land, but compared to the rest of the country, water is extremely scares in Guanacaste.

The irrigation plan included a total of 87,000 hectares suitable for irrigation. With only about 12% of the land with an irrigation system in place, the plan included a stepwise approach with a series of projects to cover the entire area in about 20 years. The first phase initiated construction in 1981 with what is known today as the “Proyecto de Riego Arenal Tempisque” (the Arenal Tempisque Irrigation Project). Other phases followed to constitute today’s DRAT with multiple sources of funding for its construction, from state to public-private partnerships.

With this evaluation the research team will estimate what would have happened in the area in the absence of this government intervention. The central question of this study is what would have happened in the lower part of the Tempisque River watershed and Guanacaste if the DRAT had not been implemented. This question will be addressed with a counterfactual thinking approach relying on the use of qualitative and quantitative data, and implementing socioeconomic methods together with GIS tool for the analysis.

The results of this study will be great contribution for policymakers and decision making based on sound scientific research. A great example of the policy interaction between research and policy.

News | 30 October 2013