Bangladesh: Documenting the Farmer-led Approach
In June 2009, the AME Foundation responded to an invitation from MISEREOR, who asked us to help their partner organisations with the documentation of the implementation of the Farmer-led Approach.
Together with ILEIA, we organised a 4-day workshop in Mymensingh, to the north of Dhaka, with the participation of three organisations (Caritas, BARCIK and BIA), all of whom have been busy with FLA for a few years.
Caritas is implementing a project called “Sustainable agriculture through FLA”, which is being implemented in three sub districts. Having started in November 2004, this experience is to finish in July 2010. Their main objective is to show a different approach towards empowerment.
BARCIK's work aims at establishing the rights of farmers to agriculture through FLA. They are interested in showing how they can continue with their initial work on the promotion of indigenous knowledge, but “grounding it on specific activities with the farmers themselves”. Their aim is to become active players in “people-led advocacy”. At the same time, BIA works in the implementation of the “bee-keeper led approach” in the district of Kishoregong (within the Dhaka division). Their objective is to train poor bee-keepers, especially women, and, together with them, run an action-research programme – basically oriented at solving the virus infection faced by Apis serana. As a local species, this has many advantages over Apis melifera, especially when seeing bee-keeping as an income generation activity for resource-poor women.
Being in Mymensingh, we were able to visit a few farmers, and hear about their main worries and interests. One of their main concerns is that local species are getting lost, while at the same time the rains are late and much more irregular, and the water level is going down in all the rural areas.
A four day workshop
We started the workshop by talking about our objectives, about FLA and their programmes, our main strategies (of learning by doing, and not listening to a lecture), and about the possibility of having a core team of participants to help and support the facilitators. Then we looked at what they all had already done in terms of documentation. Our objective was to start a documentation process, which was to be completed later by all teams.
Following a simple methodology, next came a general description of their activities. All participants agreed to divide themselves according to their organisation, and to immediately start documenting their work.
We started by setting the boundaries: identifying what exactly did they want to document, and separating those pieces of information which can be used from those that cannot.
One concern which came up was the way to organize the “components”. Is it fine to do it chronologically? Is it not better to look back at the way in which activities were grouped in the original proposal? Our recommendation was to do it the way they find easier, considering that, by “component”, we are only interested in a way to group activities. The way these are grouped is basically meant to help them add information easily, and also help them see where is information missing.
A next step was the analysis, highlighting the reasons why it is so important. We discussed the idea that with the analysis we want to say if we like or dislike the object of our documentation. This is, that we give our opinion. In order to do this, we need some basic criteria, so that our opinion can be justified. We presented a first list of criteria and indicators for each. Our first list was based on previous communication exchanges held with MISEREOR, as well as on the analysis we made of the documents we got in advance, and included:
- the fulfillment of objectives (did they do what was planned to do), using as indicators ideas such as the time period, the funds available, the perception of farmers, the role of the donors, etc.;
- the institutionalisation process (how much is FLA being taken as part the organisation), looking at its incorporation into regular plans, into the work of other programmes or projects, etc.;
- how much does FLA fit into the context (how does it relate to the Bangladeshi context), looking at its relation to local customs or traditions, or to the government’s actions;
- the set of partnerships (how does each organization work with other organisations), considering agreements, informal collaboration, etc.; and
- their vision of the future (how is it going to continue), especially in terms of scaling-up and sustainability.
The three groups were then invited to look at these criteria and indicators, and to come up with their own (in case they had strong feelings against the ones we presented). And then they were asked to look for the main reasons behind their results, in terms of each of the indicators. We discussed the importance of considering both positive and negative aspects, even for those very successful activities.
Working separately, the three groups were able to organise the information available, and also to analyse their own work. Caritas, for example, divided its work according to four main components: capacity building, the genetic conservation activities, the establishment of a “back up farm”, and the dissemination of ideas. This included training workshops on sustainable agriculture and the establishment of a series of trial plots, where farmers tried local rice varieties, and with it increased the amount of seed available.
Among the main difficulties had, they mentioned the lack of seed, the technical difficulties for breeding, and the pressure exerted by the large input companies. As part of their analysis, they mentioned that the fulfillment of activities depended both on a good planning as on a creative exposure programme (which did not take place); that the institutionalization of FLA is difficult as Caritas implements several projects at the same time, and little time is given to sharing lessons. The team felt that FLA fits very well with the Bangladeshi context.
In contrast to Caritas, BARCIK divided its activities chronologically. Their first phase, between 2001 and 2004, saw the documentation of indigenous practices. Between 2004 and 2007 they went into joint action by, for example, setting a demonstration plot.
Since 2007, their third phase continues with similar activities, adding a sort of fellowship for landless farmers and also farmer-to-farmer extension. Our main observation was that it was better (and easier) to focus on one particular village, and to highlight the results and difficulties seen there. The most important result seen included that farmers are now researchers and are in charge of their activities, and not just providers of information.
Their analysis showed that farmers participate in their programmes as these are based on their knowledge, ideas and interests, although, because of their participation, some farmers feel that they are losing income.
Similarly, most are motivated, but some recognize the need to combine their participation with the need to earn money. Something they don’t know exactly how it will turn out is the work of a recently formed women’s organization.
Finally, the BIA team decided to highlight their two main fields of action: the action-research process and the bee-keeping extension programme. The first one included a meeting with various experts (from, e.g., the Keystone Foundation) and also a review of the activities farmers are already carrying out. Focusing on what farmers know and do helped them identify the best steps against the virus.
At the same time, some bee-keepers were trained and helped so that they could provide training. At the moment there are 8 skilled trainers, with a total of 70 farmers trained. As a result, some women are earning their own income.
In addition to their main activities, this team also looked at the potential sustainability of their programme, showing that there is a lot of skilled bee-keepers, that there is a lot of interest, even if there is not enough funds. They mention that BIA is recognized as a serious organization, that their training approach is not expensive, and that they are helped by the fact that farmers are well organized.
A second visit
During the first days of September I was again in Bangladesh, on a second visit to these organisations. With this, we wanted to help finalise the draft documents which these organisations prepared after the first meeting (identifying the gaps, eliciting information on these information gaps). This second visit ws meant to help create a learning environment for the participants in identifying gaps, adding details and writing the document; and also understand the learning experience of the participants about this documentation process.
A first meeting was with Caritas, with whom we discussed the difficulties they had experienced, and the parts which were still "missing" in their document. We also talked about writing, and about the basic components of a document - mentioning the importance of completeness, conciseness, accuracy and, more importantly, the "humanisation" of the text (making the document more readable and reliable).
Looking at "what should be there", we saw some gaps: the objective/purpose of the document is not clear; there are no cases – so there is no human aspect; there is no proper flow, links missing, the text needs to be reorganised; the message is not very prominent; thwe hole text is highly project oriented, rather than message oriented; the document lacks cohesiveness; some terms/concepts need to be explained; the conclusion is not clear; there are more of negative aspects than achievements.
To enable participation of the all the members in modifying the text, the document was beamed on to a screen. Everyone could see and participate in the process of reorganisation of the draft document. Firstly, a structure was agreed upon. This was all split into subsections so as to make it easy to place the relevant information in each section.
It was repeatedly emphasised that the concepts, context, process and results were all important, and these had to be included wherever necessary. As the document was projected on to the screen, all the members could contribute and give their views, both in content gaps and style of presentation. Each one of them read the document, reflected the meaning, corrected it wherever required and made suggestions.
A similar exercise was carried out with BARCIK and BIA. Participants were asked to read the draft documents prepared by them. Copies were made and shared with them. We then had a brief presentation on "effective writing". After the presentation, participants were asked to reflect on the document: at this moment they mentioned that the introduction, conclusion and analysis are interesting, but the body text is not; there is no clarity about what the FLA process is about and who are the beneficiaries; the description seems to be complicated; the message is not clear; there is much less about women participation; there is a lot of repetition and some factual errors; the process and information is there, but needs to be reoriented; consistency and continuity required.
Some observations / suggestions
In short, we can conclude that:
- The documentation workshop has helped all organisations in organising their information. It has also helped them understanding the importance of analysis in a document. However, participants are not clear as to how to bring in these elements into the written texts.
- Building capacities on documentation will be incomplete if the participants are not guided in writing, which the most common form of field documentation. Hand holding the organisations in the process of writing becomes crucial in helping them bring out documentation products.
- Involving multiple organisations in a workshop can lead to cross learning, if they are all working on a common objective or approach (for example, FLA). On the other hand, with the participation of multiple organisations, if the experiences are diverse with the limitations of learning capabilities and language across organisations, the process can become less effective.
- Helping one organisation at a time is much more effective and focused. Approaches and strategies specific to the organisation could be adopted. By creating a learning atmosphere, internal learning on the programme will be much more. With more number of staff getting benefited from the process, this will result in more sustainable documentation within the organisations.
- It would be better if we could use the information already recorded in earlier reports for known aspects (about the project, objectives…etc..etc) which don’t change over time. Focus could then be more on analysis part. This would mean that the organisations should have an ongoing documentation / recording systems – processes, events, photos, quotes, anecdotes, cases, numbers etc. As we all know we cannot capture these at the end of the project period.
A joint effort of local communities, NGOs and donors to redefine participation Read more
Please write to T.M. Radha, AME Foundation