India: Documenting the Farmer-led Approach in Orissa
As part of a broad request, in June 2009 we went to Orissa, a state in eastern India, in order to help some of MISEREOR's partner organisations with the documentation of the implementation of the Farmer-led Approach. Together with ILEIA, we organised a 4-day workshop in the premises of the Centre for Youth and Social Development, an NGO based in Bhubaneswar.
We worked with four organisations (ORRISSA, KIRDTI, Jana Vikas and DULAL), all of whom have been working with MISEREOR and with this approach.
Since 2006, ORRISSA is busy with the promotion of farmers’ organization through FLA, covering Malkangiri and Kandhamal. Their objective is to help 5000 adivasi households achieve food sovereignty, and they do this by legitimizing their traditional knowledge and practices, and also through celebrations. KIRDTI works in 8 Gran Panchayats in the district of Keonjhar. Their objective is to facilitate the formation of farmer associations; to promote networlks among these associations, and help farmers exercise control over their natural resources. Their work is seriously affected by communal violence and they suffer regular harassment from the police. Jana Vikas started working in 2006, trying to restore the local traditional farming system (in Phiringia, one of the 12 blocks of the district of Kandhamal); increase food security and develop a people-centred and participatory approach. The area where they work experienced serious ethnic conflicts, leading to severe violence. Finally, DULAL works with farmers in 7 blocks of Mayur Bhanj with the objective of reviving traditional knowledge and practices. Their main strategy is to organize food sovereignty campaigns and to promote farmer to farmer exchanges. An important part of their work is their own reflection on the development process.
Each organization came to the meeting with 3 or 4 staff members, and also two of the farmers with whom they work. The CYSD meeting room was a very comfortable place, although better suited for very formal meetings. The great advantage was that the room is air conditioned – especially as during these few days we experienced a heat wave, with temperatures reaching a record of 44.6 °C. After a brief opening ceremony we started with a short introduction, which included a presentation of all participants, and where we also asked their expectations. On the basis of these expectations we discussed what we understand as "documentation", and the importance of differentiating this from a description. We also talked about a few basic principles (that this is a participatory process, that it must include the opinions of different stakeholders, etc.) and some basic conditions for it to work (support from our organizations, sufficient time and resources, and a critical attitude towards out work). This was followed by a short presentation of the methodology to follow.
A four day workshop
We started the workshop defining the boundaries of the four cases, identifying the “borders” between what we are to include during a documentation process and all those activities or results which, although interesting, are not to be included. Following a simple methodology, next came a general description of their activities. All participants divided themselves according to their organisation, and filled in a seried of charts.
Completing the second phase of the documentation process meant identifying the most important components (as groups of activities) and then the major activities, the most important results and the difficulties they all experienced. Although all groups came up with a complete set of charts, and with interesting ideas, they all seemed to have difficulties with the room and the setting in general, as they did not seem to participate too much in the general discussions. We tried to improve this by walking outside or by doing short “ice breakers”. We also gave feedback to each group (without a plenary discussion).
Among the main points that came out of these discussions, we heard from ORRISSA that their work covers advocacy, the revival of local traditions, and also the strengthening of local organizations. But they also considered their own learning: a set of exchange visits and a continuous internal reflection process. They see FLA as their main working approach. KIRDTI's activities, in contrast, cover institution building, ecological protection and the revival of organic agricultural practices, advocacy in favour of land rights, and also their own capacity building. One of their major difficulties has been the continuous threats they experience from established mafias (with interests in, for example, logging). Jana Vikas follows a similar approach to the other organizations, in that they also consider farmers’ capacity building, group building and strengthening, and also organizational capacities. But they suffered strong opposition from vested interest groups and from religious fundamentalists, which even led to the total destruction of their office. Their interest is now to use the FLA approach as part of their peace-building activities. Finally, DULAL supports the local traditional farming activities, and has also carried out a sensitization programme which included several “poda yathras”. And an important part of their work refer to their own reflection and analysis, for which they participated in a series of exchange visits and workshops, looking in detail at the advantages and possibilities of participatory approaches like FLA.
We had then a short presentation of the analysis. We felt it was necessary to repeat why it is so important, and to show that it does not need to be especially difficult. The whole discussion was not easy, as participants found it difficult to intervene. On top of the formal setting, we found it difficult to work in two languages: we regularly had to translate from English to Orya and vice versa. All groups, however, seemed interested in the methodology and in trying this analysis out, and immediately went to fill the tables, following a pre-determined set of criteria and indicators:
- 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.
All groups tried to identify the main reasons behind their results – both as positive and as negative aspects. As in other documentation processes, it was necessary to highlight the difference between the causes and the consequences within each indicator, and with it giving their opinion. We worked separately with each group. Among the ideas mentioned we had:
- ORRISSA: The fulfillment of their activities depended to a large extent on the strength of the local organisations, and they were also influenced by floods and dry spells. But the organisation of reflexion exercises was useful, leading gradually to a complete incorporation of FLA in their plans and programmes. Their work fits very well with current big issues such as climate change.
- KIRDTI: One of the key issues when talking about institutionalisation has been the involvement of all staff in trainings and discussions, while a major disadvantage has been that some projects have different priorities, and thus FLA does not really fit. Collaboration with the government has started, although the local authorities have been a constant source of harassment.
- Jana Vikas: Their main problem has been the social unrest lived in their intervention area, the lack of co-operation between organisations, the role taken by “vested interests”, and even the “attack from fundamental groups”. But the organisation is convinced of the advantages of FLA, and now plans to use it as a main strategy in their peace-building efforts.
- DULAL: The positive results achieved have come as a result of good planning, management and monitoring, and also because of their “conceptual clarity on FLA”. Another positive factor has been the regular meetings with other organisations, the discussions held and the support received from the Misereor consultant. Thinking about the future, they recognize the interest which farmers have in it, convincing them that, because of this, their work is sustainable.
At the end of the meeting we went on to look at the conclusions, focusing on the most important aspects of their work. Conclusions need to be short and concise, and at the same time they have to reflect what has been discussed in the analysis. An important point is to try to show something new: the “new knowledge” which results from a documentation process, and which leads to a specific recommendation (for ourselves and for others). All participants wrote what they thought was a good conclusion, and we all discussed their work. Among the list made we read that "FLA is the only way to revive traditional agricultural practices and knowledge, skills of adivasi farmers and also gives food security to all farmers"; "Traditional community-based institutions can play an important role in regaining and promoting traditional agriculture, seeds, culture and traditions"; and that "The work of our organisation has shown that food sovereignty can be achieved by building upon people’s knowledge on traditional agriculture in a community-owned process".
A second visit
During the third week of November I went again to Orissa, with the objective of meeting these four organisations again and help them finalise the draft documents that they prepared in terms of content (identifying the gaps, eliciting information on these information gaps). My objective was to 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.
I first met the representatives of ORRISSA and KIRDTI. Some participants from DULAL joined later, while, sadly, those from Jana Vikas were not able to. They all mentioned what had happened after the first meeting: the ORRISSA team started collecting information from the field, which was missing. They discussed with the local community to get some grassroot level information. The draft document was prepared compiling information from all these sources. The KIRDTI team displayed the charts developed in the previous workshop, in the office. Some core staff responded to these charts, clarified certain aspects and brought in more information form their experience. Also, some cases were developed from the field. Some information which was already there was used. The DULAL representatives mentioned that they discussed the information generated in the first workshop with colleagues at the block level. In the process of collecting more information from the field, a number of case studies were also developed. This, along with the information available in the records, helped in preparing the first draft.
We then discussed about the importance of "effective writing", with the need to have a message conveyed in the write up, and how each and every idea discussed needs to reiterate that message. I also explained how any document would be having basic minimum components – introduction, body of text and the conclusion. I explained in detail what each of these should contain, which most of the time is very vague. Besides content, I also emphasised on some important points while writing to make it more readable and reliable. Texts were beamed, and this helped us discuss them with everybody.
Some general observations
(1) All organisations put a lot of effort in preparing a draft document. This all benefitted from additional field visits.
(2) Partners religiously followed the pattern of information organisation (done during the first documentation workshop), even in the writing of the document. They were also bound by the limitation of the number of words (eg., approx. 3000 words). Moreover, not much of the information generated in the form of tables during the first documentation workshop found place in the written draft. This may have happened because the focus of the first workshop was more on generating information (in the form of tables), but how to link these various aspects and components was not discussed. Organisations were not clear as to how to prioritise or organise them in a limited textual form (in this case an article, which was emphasised repeatedly during the first workshop).
(3) Guiding several organisations at a time (as done in the first workshop) through a process, may be economical and also help in cross learning. But, as the attention and focus gets divided across organisations, such workshops cannot go beyond helping organisations in thinking, reflecting and generating information. The time limitation makes the process quite exhaustive too. But as organisations are different, with different activities, processes and capacities, they would require undivided attention, to be able to produce the right kind of results.
(4) It would be much more effective if each organisation could be helped separately in generating, prioritising and organising information. Sharing across partners for cross learning could be attempted, not at the beginning (as it was intended in the first documentation workshop), but at a later stage (maybe at the end of the document preparation), when partners are clear about the process and can share more effectively.
(5) Lastly, partners have a lot of pride in the FLA process that they have adopted. There is a passion to share the process. But there is a feeling that there is neither enough time nor adequate skills in writing the experience. There is a strong opinion that an external help (who have sound knowledge on documentation) is required to bring out and share these processes and experiences.
Strengthening people-led development
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Please write to T.M. Radha, AME