The Millennium Villages Project (MVP) is a community-based approach to achieving the MDGs. Many rural development programs have hindered their potential for success because local stakeholders did not participate adequately in the development process. A community-based approach is therefore essential for the success and sustainability of the MVP. A community-based approach is embodied in the established and known principles of participation, social and gender inclusion, equity, and local stakeholders’ ownership of the decision-making and development process.
The MVP also undertakes extensive programs to build capacity of farmers and local farmer organization. Capacity of both is strengthened by, among other things, working with farmer-based organizations and providing training to farmers, extension officers, and farmer-based organizations. MVP has also created many agriculture committees in the various clusters, and at least one at least one committee per settlement or community has been formed.
Farmers receive training in improved production and crop management techniques, post-harvest handling, construction of storage facilities, and conflict management prior to receiving agricultural inputs. In addition, learning plots are established to demonstrate agricultural techniques and practices. These plots also serve as place where farmers can engage in innovation and testing. For instance, in Bonsaaso, Ghana, Farmer Field Schools (FFS) were established to facilitate training. FFS is a participatory extension and training approach that focuses on building farmers’ capacity to make well-informed crop management decisions through increased knowledge and understanding of the agro-ecosystem. It encourages farmers to experiment on their own farms and make their own decisions based on their observations and knowledge through regular field visits and observations.
Case Study: Tiby, Mali
The Tiby Millennium Village cluster, which includes 11 villages and approximately 55,000 residents, is located in the southern region of Segou, one of the poorest areas in Mali. Food insecurity is prevalent because of sporadic, unreliable rainfall. The naturally poor soils have been further impoverished through nutrient extraction. The vegetative cover has seriously declined since the early 1970s, resulting in a loss of soil fertility and agricultural productivity.
In Tiby, a fertilizer and seed program was implemented through a program utilizing participative and transparent farmer based management. Relying on local committees composed of elected community members, farmers were given access to microfinance to purchase these inputs. The program, which utilized strong community leadership, had very successful results.
• 1,700 tons of fertilizer distributed to nearly 5,000 households feeding approximately 68,000 people
• Greater than 95% reimbursement rate managed by the community
• USD 445,000 generated and used to procure half of the rice farming fertilizer needs (750 tons)
• Significant political impact through the Government’s Rice Initiative
Question: Which of the recommendations and actions set forth in the Conference Report best achieve the goal of amplifying farmers’ voices in policy debates and decision-making processes?While most of the recommendations and actions set forth could promote farmers’ voices in policy debate, the following recommendations are especially relevant:
- Making policy relevant and responsive to smallholder farmers’ needs;
- Enhancing accountability of state and non-state actors;
- Improving access to financial resources, especially micro-finance;
- Building capacity of farmer organizations; and
- Taking the message to Africa,” with a focus on micro-finance organizations and extension service providers.
Question: How can we ensure that measurable targets are set for gender and equity?
Organizational culture, project and program design are the crucial entry points. The following investments have proven very effective in institutionalizing WFP’s highly successful “Enhanced Commitment to Women” policy:·
- Ensuring that women benefit at least equally from assets created through program interventions;·
- Enhancing women’s control of program resources;·
- Ensuring that women are equally involved in program-related local bodies;·
- Ensuring that gender is mainstreamed in programming activities;·
- Conducting baseline studies in order to set realistic targets and establish a benchmark against which to measure results;·
- Generating and disseminating gender-disaggregated data and information for monitoring and evaluation;·
- Contributing to an environment that acknowledges the important role women play in rural economies and that encourages both men and women to participate in closing the gender gap; and·
- Making progress towards gender equality in staffing, opportunities and duties, and ensuring that human resources policies are gender-sensitive and provide possibilities for staff members to combine their personal and professional priorities.
Question: How can we build capacity of grassroots organisations for basic skills (e.g., organisations and business skills) and leadership (to influence policy and negotiations)?
Basic skills and leadership in grassroots organizations can be most effectively enhanced if these organizations have a strong voice in all stages of project and program design and implementation. Their ownership of these processes should be explicitly enshrined in project implementations workplans, for which they should be jointly responsible and accountable. Organizations with deep field presence are well-placed to support such processes.
Question: How do we strengthen horizontal and vertical linkages and partnerships/networks with other organisations?
From WFP’s experience, local needs and constraints are the main drivers of effective horizontal and vertical linkages, partnerships and networks. Areas in which linkages should be enhanced include a range of services and support functions including: raising start-up funds, institution building, business networking and marketing, innovation and knowledge transfer, technical training, research, legal support, infrastructure development and maintenance, and community health and social services. A diverse variety of partners is needed to help satisfy this range of needs.
Question: How can we increase access to resources and services for small-scale farmers and marginalized groups?
It is crucial to integrate provision of supply-side and demand-side (or market) services and investments. Especially crucial is creation of platforms of substantial and stable demand for the crops grown by smallholder farmers, thereby reducing risks and improving incentives they face when investing in productivity-enhancing technologies and practices. WFP’s recently launched Purchase for Progress initiative is an example of the nature of such investments, which have been lacking thus far.
Question: What investments are needed in governance systems and accountability mechanisms to help farmers’ organisations become more effective in informing and influencing public and private policy processes?
WFP has found the following governance principles to be relevant and useful in its work with local organizations:·
- Personal commitment to accountability and transparency at the head-of-agency and executive-staff levels, which creates a supportive organizational environment;·
- A corporate policy that outlines how the organization will contribute to major equity-enhancing goals (such as the MDGs to cut poverty and promote gender equality) through standards and commitments that relate to the mission of the organization and that are commonly understood;·
- Contractual agreements with partner agencies that further specify and concretize the standards and commitments, and the consequences of non-adherence;·
- Guidelines that specify how to interpret and effectively operationalize the standards and commitments; and· Systematic monitoring-and-evaluation mechanisms of standards and commitments.
Clearly, development is about people. All efforts geared towards realising the potential of human personality are, therefore, encapsulated in one word: Development. Not until knowledge producers/researchers begin to reflect upon what their intentions are, it might be difficult to achieve any meaningful human progress. The African Green Revolution initiative could prove to be a significant platform for this after all. Perhaps, we need to probe ourselves and ask what on earth has become of the sub-Saharan African smallholder farmer in spite of all the scientific breakthroughs [in agricultural production] that have been achieved in the past by both international and national research centres. Perhaps, we need to ask what has been happening to agricultural productivity in Africa for the past decades. Perhaps, we need to find out where we have missed the point in bringing about food security in sub-Saharan Africa despite all the relatively huge investments in agricultural research over the years.
Perhaps, we need to gauge the feelings of small farmers on how scientists and policy makers still go about doing development business in Africa. Perhaps, academics in agriculture and other cognate disciplines [in spite of their various research findings and publications] need to sit down and think of where they have failed humanity in this respect.
That said, I think we need to revisit the modality for Research- Extension-Farmer linkage. Ralph von Kaufmann, in a way, did allude to this all important aspect in his earlier contribution. To make farmers voice heard would entail strengthening the linkage system between research and grassroots farmers. It would entail a complete overhaul of the entire system. It would entail proper funding for extension to enable it reach all the nooks and crannies of farming communities. As earlier noticed by Kwesi Atta-Kra, farmer representation may not be the ideal after all. Experience has shown that representatives have not represented well enough in time past. Majority of them have continued to defend their own interests. What then is the solution?
First, give all farmers the privilege to give feedbacks on research endeavours at all levels. And give legitimacy to this, too. This can only be achieved where the extension agency [both governmental and non-governmental] provides the necessary innovation, goodwill and leadership for this goal. By and large, strengthening farmers’ voices and acknowledging same will, thus, require some degree of humility from the knowledge producer and decision maker.
Second, Universities and colleges would need some re-structuring in the knowledge production process and also in their teaching curricula. It all about democratising knowledge production by incorporating farmers’ views and ‘research’ into formal teaching and mainstream research. This may be a challenge. But some are already starting to reform particularly so in South Africa [where indigenous knowledge is now being emphasised in schools and colleges]. To advance agricultural production and productivity in Africa, farmers and their knowledge systems need to form part of the building blocks for research and teaching in colleges and Universities. Systematising this in teaching and research will, in a way, and automatically become part of the policy processes. This won’t happen immediately but it will surely enhance the entire process in the long-run. In all, not allowing farmers voice to be heard on our path to realising a sustainable African agriculture, nay Green Revolution, is like a frog orchestra without a lead singer!
Only the well organized, powerful farmers with good market linkages have thus far been able to make their voices heard to the extent that policies and programs are adapted to their needs. For the rest, intermediary individuals or organizations often provide the platform to enable their concerns to be heard.If these “mediating” organizations have status in policy or research circles, then the voices may have an impact in the form of redirected programs or policies.
As others have already underlined, the active listening phase needs to be followed with action that is tangible in the eyes of farmers – not an easy task.
A recent dissertation by Sarah Parkinson on the progress of the Uganda NAADS program emphasized how farmers perceive the new program offerings on the basis of deep rooted perspectives (archetypes) that respond to their life experiences. No matter what NAADS officials say, it is the farmers’ heritage of experience that shapes what they believe will happen that is concrete and meaningful.
To move forward I can think of (at least) three key conditions that are necessary:
1. organizational culture;
2. duration of engagement, and
Organizational culture means having individuals and organizations with a commitment to the principles behind “making farmers’ voices heard”. This means engaging those who will enable farmers’ voices at the local level, all the way to the regional and national audiences in research, marketing and policy circles. Identifying a network of dedicated individuals within these organizations (the champions) is a must. Second, the effort cannot be short term as both research, policy or market linkages will take time to respond. The conventional, 2-3 year duration project tradition is not conducive to these conditions – hence funding over the long term is a significant challenge. To keep all parties on track with progress over the longer terms, M&E procedures needs to respond to an adaptive learning approach (Outcome Mapping and Most Significant Change are examples).
Last, but not least is methodology. There is an established track record in the field of participatory communication with a focus on “active listening” (see: for example: http://www.fao.org/sd/dim_kn1/kn1_040602_en.htm ). The methods and media opportunities exist but they do not thrive without conditions 1 and 2 in place. IDRC had developed one such relevant experience that is worth building on or supporting: http://www.allincbnrm.org/
Here we are as scientists and others speaking on behalf of farmers – not an ideal situation. The range of these farmers includes fishers, rangers, foresters as well as full time to part time professionals who derive a proportion of income from farming. With urbanization the nature of small holder farmers is changing continuously.
Understanding the typology of an African farmer in the context of the Green revolution is crucial in framing the discussion. This is the farmer with limited access to inputs, technical information, markets and weather data. He/she depend heavily on rain fed agriculture, the social capital of the community for advocacy, representation and on security of tenure from the village to the Central Government. The small holder farmer is vulnerable to variable weather, heterogeneity of the agro ecosystem and multiple and inconsistent policies as he fights against constrained resource base.
The survival basis of the farmer is innovation and diversification. His/her responsiveness to production is influenced by the community, incentives, level of education and the family structure. We often consider them as not organized but paradoxically the small African farmer is resilient and has not disappeared despite their apparent lack of organization, a message to us that we ought to know them better as we argue for more space on their behalf.
The subject of making farmers’ voices heard should be central in the green revolution that we intend to create. The green revolution for Africa can only happen if farmers in different communities are able to take ownership and make contributions in decisions that influence their livelihoods and their agriculture. Often times the feeling is that we the scientists have all the answers and that the farmers only need to take what comes from us.
This model has proven time and time again to be flawed and unworkable, I believe.Making farmers’ voices heard also does not happen necessarily through participation of a couple of Farmer Organization officials at series of workshops and conferences. In other instances such farmer representatives are invited to participate in research planning or project development initiatives. While such levels of participation may be necessary, they do raise the question of “who is representing whom” and what happens after these various events.
In all such instances of representation, there is often a lot of talk, which is never followed through, and the farmers on the ground never even know that these interactions have taken place. Sometimes also, some farmer representatives do find themselves in unfamiliar territory of researchers and scientists, who simply go ahead and do what they have planned to do anyway. In other cases, the farmer representatives may find themselves completely out-gunned by the research and development partners – sometimes even to the point of feeling intimidated. Even when Farmers make contributions at such fora, they are hardly ever taken into account as part of the inputs for developing the solutions. This is a situation where the farmers may speak, but no space has been created for incorporating their concerns. This point was amplified in the contribution made by Ralph von Kauffmann in an earlier contribution to this discussion.
What I believe is needed is a mechanism for creating space for farmers at different levels to meet in a “farmers’ consultation” to deliberate on particular issues, make their key concerns known, and get involved in identifying mechanisms that could lead to a resolution of the challenges. Scientists, researchers and development workers could be invited to participate in such farmer-driven consultation processes, but principally to listen and to learn. Farmers must be empowered and encouraged and capacitated to be in the drivers’ seat, in voicing out the issues and making suggestions on way forward. This would also include identifying challenges for which some resolution is required either through research or through policy changes, etc. Once such capacities and processes have been established, researchers would find it very rewarding in working jointly with the farmer representatives in sharing ideas on possible solutions and planning some joint activities to resolve outstanding challenges and finding solutions.
It is in this respect that I express my support for the process that was highlighted in the contribution of Amdissa Teshome, Chief Consultant, A-Z Consult. He highlighted four steps that need to be fully farmer oriented in implementation:
(i) Community consultations;
(ii) Regional validation workshops;
(iii) National policy dialogue forum- for farmers; and finally, and
(iv) Policy engagement. All these processes are developed with farmers in the driver’s seat, and with farmers empowered to brainstorm and seek to contribute to finding solutions to the problems facing them.
I am very pleased to make a contribution to this theme based on the experience of Future Agricultures work in Ethiopia over the last 2 years. It is well established that policy making in most African countries including Ethiopia has been and continue to be top down. The elite group (the researchers, the politicians) think they know what the farmers want and design policies and programmes with little or no consultation with farmers.
Future Agricultures in Ethiopia has developed an all inclusive policy dialogue process that brings farmers voices to policy makers and make them heard. This process involves four steps:
Step I: Community consultations: engage a cross-section of community members in a dialogue on the future of agriculture. These include the elderly, adult farmers and pastoralists, youth and children (future farmers and pastoralists) and private investors. In all categories women are represented equally.
Step II: Regional validation workshops: findings from Step 1 are validated/enriched at regional workshops with researchers, academics, regional agricultural officers, NGOs and donors, farmer representatives and private investors. Farmers’ voices are being heard at this stage.
Step III: National policy dialogue forum: a farmers’ voices are brought to the national level and presented at a series of national forum in the presence of senior government officers, donors, NGOs and CSOs and parliamentarians.
Step IV: Policy engagement: armed with farmers’ voice, policy engagement and influencing has began. Although this is principally a bottom up process, policymakers are consulted/informed at all levels.
This process has now led to the creation of a Forum on Future Agricultures in which farmers’ voices will be brought to the attention of regional and national policy makers on a continual basis.
I am in full accord with the advocates for enhancing the farmer’s voice. But I have to ask the question “And then what?” There will be little point in giving the farmers voice if there is no one ready to listen and respond. I agree with the argument that we must move from being technology driven and simply seeking uses for new information technology to becoming farmer centric. However, I am not convinced that we, including myself, fully understand what that implies.
Empowerment is synonymous with becoming knowledge-able and there are a lot of dedicated people doing good pioneering work in finding ways by which farmers can become be provided with both the information and the learning tools they need to form new knowledge appropriate to their unique situations. Some significant successes can be found in the South Asian and African partnerships of the Commonwealth of Learning (COL) in promoting rural lifelong learning. Amongst the many others interesting approaches are the new concepts supported by the WK Kellogg and Bill Melinda Gates Foundations for barefoot universities and learning circles.
If these efforts are successful there will be growing numbers of farmers hungry to learn and who will be equipped with the physical and intellectual tools they need to utilise new information to build on their own funds of knowledge. Supposing that succeeds, as it must, where would they go to for the specific tailored information that they would want? Africa’s extension services are not well equipped or trained to deal with the many and highly varied questions that the farmers would ask by SMS, e-mail, MP3 players etc. The agricultural research institutes and the universities do not have the necessary linkages with rural communities, the agricultural research systems, or the staff incentive to respond on a daily basis to farmers’ questions.
The vision is beginning to clear of an interconnected agricultural knowledge system linking farmers (at rural learning communities, barefoot universities, learning circles, and farmer learning groups etc.) to agricultural information providers which are themselves interconnected so that the farmers will not get advice from whomever they happen to be connected to but from the person best qualified to answer.
The different components such as rural learning facilities, technology mediated distance education (TechMODE), open access training resources, training of facilitators to promote learning, automated FAQs, quality assurance systems, etc. are being advanced.
However, is sufficient thought being given to how it will all be brought together and to the reform and change management needed to develop the new mind sets and the very different incentives that will have to be devised to get all the actors involved in this 21st century way of empowering farmers to drive agricultural and rural development.
If you think in terms of systems, or if you live long enough, you come to the view that structural incentives are very very important in shaping outcomes. Other factors — like capacity, supply drivers, and values — matter too, of course. But if these swim against the current of structural incentives, they will eventually be swept out to sea!
So I ask myself how we might create structural incentives to promote Smallholder Farmer Voice. Here is one answer that bears consideration. I call it the Feedback Principle:
Credible public and donor reporting by an organization intending agriculture-related outcomes includes not only the logic and evidence for the outcomes, but also
(1) what smallholder farmers say about what the organization says it have achieved; and
(2) how the organization proposes to respond to farmer feedback.
There are a host of important, absorbing-to-solve questions about howorganizations should prepare for and do high quality constituency-validated reporting in a way that is meaningful and not tokenistic. But the main point on the how to challenges is that given a transparency-based incentive to do it along the lines of the one created by the Feedback Principle, organizations will figure out how to do it, and do it well. Our work at Keystone has taught us that if you are serious about making farmers’ voices heard, then you must ensure that their voices are fundamental to assessment and reporting. And to make farmers’ voices fundamental to assessment and reporting, you have to involve them in defining goals in the first place, and in how we will know success when we see it. While we have found that there are no shortcuts to progress here, there are some simple solutions that are easy to implement and don’t add to the ‘consultation burden’ that farmers already bear. If there is interest, I can say more about these ways and means.
Being a representative of Farmers Organisations (FOs) in Southern Africa, I find the topic “Making the farmers voice heard” both interesting and challenging. My opinion is that the strengthening of the farmers’ voice is absolute necessary and fundamental for the achievement of agriculture development and a green revolution in Africa. It was therefore most encouraging that almost all working groups in the “Towards an African Green Revolution Conference and Seminar” made recommendations on the need for strengthening of the capacity of FOs.
A number of good recommendations were presented by the different working groups in the conference/ seminar. However, I believe that the role that FOs should play in making the farmers’ voices heard did not come out clearly in the discussions. I have therefore made an attempt in this submission to outline some of the key-roles that are important for FOs to perform in order to create a better understanding for the support that they are in need of. I have focused my discussion on two key areas which are both crucial for strengthening of the voice of farmers. The first area focuses on the role FOs should play in order to influence agricultural policies and programmes. The second area focus on the role FOs should play in order to achieve a more equal power balance between smallholder farmers and agribusinesses. I have finally made an attempt to discuss: What should be done to enable FOs to play their roles?
What role should FOs play to increase smallholder farmers’ influence on agricultural policies and programmes?
Smallholder farmers’ influence on agricultural policies and programmes is generally week. Most organizations representing smallholder farmers lack or has limited capacity to effectively engage in different policy formulation processes. Because of their limited capacity, FO’s have had a tendency to be more reactive than proactive in the policy formulation process and have often entered the process at a late stage when it is difficult to influence the decisions. As a result, they have had little influence on agricultural policies.
To become more influential, there is need to strengthen the capacity of National Farmers Unions to:
a) Identify the critical policy issues and to develop their own policy agenda.
b) Analyse the issues through farmer lead policy research.
c) Formulate policy proposals/ positions through consultative processes with their members. This is important in order to create ownership of the policy positions and to enable their representatives to lobby for their positions with strength.
d) Engage in effective advocacy and lobbying with the decision makers. This includes formation of networks and alliances for their positions/ proposals, development of effective lobby strategies, etc.
e) Communicate their positions, objectives and achievements with their members, stake holders and general public.
What role should FOs play strengthen smallholder farmers marketing powers?
Smallholder farmers’ power balance with agribusinesses is also generally weak. Studies have shown that the power balance between farmers and agribusinesses is heavily tilted in favour of the agribusinesses. Unequal power balance has resulted in smallholder farmers not being able to get a fair price for their products in relation to other actors in the value chain.
To achieve more equal partnerships that enable mutual growth and fair deals between smallholder farmers and agribusinesses, there is need to develop and strengthen the capacity of Commodity Organisations and national Farmers Unions to:
a) Provide information to their members about marketing opportunities, producer prices, etc. and to link up farmers with agribusinesses willing to buy their products,
b) Analyse value chains, and develop marketing strategies and member services that are relevant to the members needs.
c) Engage in collective negotiations with agribusinesses about contracts in contract farming arrangements
d) Monitor implementation of contract arrangements,
e) Provide advisory service and farmers’ skills development on production techniques, standards, marketing, etc.,
f) Develop, promote and organise appropriate bulk input and output marketing systems for members including auctioning, warehouse receipt systems, brokerage, etc.
g) Promote establishment of appropriate agribusinesses such as farmers’ cooperatives,
What should be done to enable FOs to play their roles?
To perform the above roles, national FOs will be in need of training, advisory service and technical backstopping support. Such support could be provided for by various specialised organisations in different subject matters. E.g. policy research institutions could be assigned by FOs to carry out policy analysis. Other institutions could carry out training on lobby and advocacy, etc. This type of technical support could be coordinated by the Regional FOs. E.g. SACAU is already providing and coordinating capacity building support to its member organisations (National Farmers Unions) in Southern Africa. However, the ability to provide such services will depend on the availability of financial resources.
Simultaneously, the national FOs themselves will be in need of financial resources to perform their activities. This includes to employing specialists; to pay for office space and equipment; and to pay costs for implementation of different activities.
A common problem is that most FOs representing smallholder farmers are unable to generate such financial resources from their members. The main reason is that the farmers they represent are poor and the FOs has to put their membership fees at such low levels that are affordable to the poor farmers but not sustainable for their organisations.
For most smallholders FOs, the main source of income has been financial support from various development and donor agencies. Such support has mainly enabled FOs to maintain core functions of their organisations. Few organisations have received financial support that has enabled them to significantly strengthen the voice of the smallholder farmers.
Although desirable, it is not realistic to believe that national FOs, in particular Farmers Unions representing smallholder farmers, will be in a position, at least in the short to medium term, to generate adequate funds from their members. They will remain in need of financial support from development and donor agencies. It will therefore be important that those agencies not only maintain their support but significantly increase their support to FOs.
To make donor support more efficient, there is need for increased donor coordination and a shift from project to programme support along the lines of the Paris declaration. Such programmes should be planned for by the FOs themselves and should outline the role they should play, backstopping support that they would be in need of, capacities that they would require and gaps that needs to be filled, with focus on achieving agriculture development in Africa. An important part in their planning should be to address gender issues, and specific interests expressed by women and poor farmers.
National programmes could be integrated into regional programmes and support to the national FOs could be channelled through the regional FOs. The idea of the establishment of an African-wide, farmer-owned and farmer-driven fund for directing research, innovation and technology development toward farmers needs, should be broadened and should include institutional capacity building of national and regional FOs to perform services that enables the achievement of a uniquely Green Revolution in Africa.