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/