Peru: Faciliatiting systematization processes - learning from experience
For several years now, ETC Andes has been carryoing out various activities in order to support documentation and systematization processes in the region. As a facilitator of several systematization processes, the first thing one does to ensure the participatory nature of the process is to engage people in discussing:
- Why is it important to systematize an experience?, and
- How do you use the new knowledge that comes out of systematization?
These questions are posed to help clarify the ideas behind the term "systematization" and motivate the initiation of such a process among those that wish to document their experiences. They are key to start a process with a certain level of commitment that permits reaching a final desired product (i.e. an article in a journal, a presentation, a poster, a leaflet, etc).
As we, the facilitators, analyze our roles and the lessons learned from processes we have followed, one of the first things that comes strongly is that we too must have a clear understanding of the why and the how. If not, we cannot convey to others the relevance and usefulness of systematization.
This short analysis shares the lessons which resulted from some of these exercises. The process of deepening the understanding as facilitators of the why and the how has come out of three different systematization processes that took place in Peru. Two of these processes took place in the Mantaro Valley, Junin, in the Central highlands. The third took place in the Southern highland valleys of Peru, in the Arequipa region.
Recycling for a cleaner environment: paving the pathway from conventional to organic agriculture
The Action Network on Alternative Agriculture (RAAA for its Spanish acronym), contacted ETC Andes to ask for help in the systematization of two experiences they had initiated with farmer groups in two different localities in Concepcion and Chupaca, in the Mantaro Valley. These experiences took place as part of a pilot project called “Environmental Management of Persistent Organic Pollutants Generated in the Mantaro valley, Junin”. This project was funded by FMAM’s (World Environmental Funds) Small Grants Programme and was executed in collaboration with the NGO CEDEPAS and, in the case of Concepcion, the Provincial Municipality of Concepcion.
The path taken from the moment the group agrees on documenting their experience to that of actually selecting what they will systematize turned out to be different for each of the two very similar experiences. In the case of Concepción, we worked with a relatively large group of thirty men and women farmers. In Chupaca on the other hand, we had a slightly smaller group of 23 people. Not too surprisingly, it turned out to be harder for the larger group to reach a decision on what specific topic they wanted to systematize. The Concepción group decided to document the overall project while in Chupaca they decided they wanted to give greater emphasis to organic agriculture. In the end, the participants in Concepcion decided their objectives to be too broad when they tried to analyze their results. That is when they revisited their work thus far and adjusted it, ending up giving more emphasis to the strengthening of capacities to produce organic fertilizers as a step towards organic agriculture.
On the other hand, participants in the Chupaca systematization workshop went the other way around. They started with the idea of organic agriculture as the topic for their systematization. However, as they were going through the systematization process, they decided that what they needed to emphasis was more on the process they went through (sensibilization, capacity building, best practices) that has made more farmers willing to shift from conventional to organic agriculture. The end results of both systematization processes are two papers that are slightly different in their approach to a same topic and therefore can be read one after the other to have a broader picture of the project in the Mantaro valley.
Lessons for the facilitator from these two experiences are first of all that, while there were two agendas in play in this process of systematization, that of the RAAA and that of farmer groups, both agendas in the end can be achieved in a single that fulfilled the need of both types of actors.
For the RAAA, this process would feed into a new proposal for a new phase for the project. They had already produced a document systematizing the experience but, in contrast with what was done with farmer groups, it was missing their inputs, their analysis and their self-criticism (positive and negative). For the groups, the why they systematized their experiences had to do with sharing what they did in a newsletter many considered their main source of information when it came to ecological agriculture: Revista Leisa de Agroecología. The knowledge they had achieved through their practices was worth sharing with others. We learned that there is a large group of farmers and communities that want to share their knowledge with others but do not know how. Systematization gives them that opportunity. We also learned that by participating in a well done systematization exercise, farmer groups and/or communities truly go through a thorough process of analysis that helps pin point, as they go through the steps, what the true achievements of their experience are and how and where they can improve things.
Using the systematization tool to produce a document evidencing to donors project achievements: El Taller, Arequipa
El Taller, an NGO located in Arequipa, in the Southern highlands of Peru, approached ETC Andes in need of help to systematize the work they had been doing within a project financed by Louvain Cooperation au Development. El Taller had been working with farmers in different activities regarding the production of ecologically grown aromatic plants that were processed and later exported to Europe. They were reaching the point where some sort of publication, and not just midterm reports, were needed. During two two-day workshops, an ETC Andes team of two facilitators led intense work sessions. This was a different process than the one followed with farmers. Here we worked with technical and professional NGO staff that worked in teams in different aspects of the overall project. The process of reaching a decision on what experience would be systematized followed a good logic.
El Taller needed the whole project systematized but trying to do it as one experience would be impossible even if they worked in separate groups by activities trying to later join it in one sole systematization was not possible. Participants came out with the idea of a book with various chapters, each referring to one of the activities. El Taller would also have one chapter that would entail a case study of one farmer that had shifted from conventional agriculture, growing non-profitable crops to an ecological farmer growing products for a niche market. This experience would encompass all the different activities that took place and that helped this farmer shift to a new way of producing.
During the workshop, we had at least seven different systematization processes going on at the same time. Each group would finish up to a certain phase of the process and share it with the rest in plenary sessions so that all could comment and make correction or additions where necessary. Also so they could all analyze how the experiences had gone, what had worked and what had not. This was especially useful with one experience that was on going. This brings us to a learning experience that came out of this systematization process. Usually systematization processes are done at the end or at midpoint of an experience. Though entirely feasible, systematizing a recently initiated and on-going experience is not the norm. With El Taller, we decided to systematize the installation of a farmer’s market in Arequipa from its beginning. We were lucky enough to arrive in Arequipa the first day this market started to function. In our first workshop we systematized the experience to that point and analyzed what worked and what did not. From this analysis, adjustments were made to improve diffusion as well as services and presentation of products for the next time. In a month’s time, when the following systematization workshop took place, we continued to analyze how the farmer’s market was going and how the adjustments had or had not had an effect on the results.
Finally, regarding a process ending in a product such as a publication, despite the need for El Taller to publish, they have not all finished their systematizations. There might be many reasons behind this. They might have too many things going on and have no time to write up what they have systematized. There also might not be someone who has seriously taken the task of seeing everyone complete the task. Why the difference with farmer groups? One difference is that farmer groups did count with someone from RAAA that helped them write up. It was not such a big task as the one that El Taller embarked in, though for farmers groups in Concepcion and Chupaca, the end results were very significant, they will soon see their experiences published in a LEISA magazine issue.