Getting better all the time
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CTA. 2000. Getting better all the time. Spore 85. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to cite or share this item: https://hdl.handle.net/10568/46656
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Farmers face multiple problems: food security, land availability, income generation and sometimes the need to understand national agricultural policies. These are the farmers that extension workers are having to meet more and more. But if...
Farmers face multiple problems: food security, land availability, income generation and sometimes the need to understand national agricultural policies. These are the farmers that extension workers are having to meet more and more. But if extensionists cannot pass on what they know and have to tell, they are doing something wrong. For a long time extension and training programmes in ACP countries were not focussed on the needs and constraints faced by the farmer. Today things are looking, and sounding, better: trainers and extension workers are now equipped with a variety of methods for communicating and advising, rather than trying to force-feed their messages. 'The best guarantee of change is a well-trained farmer who is aware of his rights and duties, and is able to set priorities, check deals, examine accounts and participate actively in community organisations working for development' is what Famara Diédhiou wrote in his book Paths to the Future: the Senegalese Farmers Movement. His message was clear; for the former president of the Federation of Senegalese NGOs, just as for many other observers, modern training and agricultural extension work should be bottom-up, based on farmers needs. For the last few years agricultural extension work has aimed at strengthening the general trend of participatory methods involving rural people. These methods were introduced on a large scale by donor agencies, NGOs and technical assistance organisations as well as such initiatives as the FAO programme for small-farm development. They comprise various strategies: organising active groups of farmers, using inter-village methods, processes of testing and validating of techniques together with farmers. Some have shaken down into new sets of extension methods, such as the RAAKS method developed by the University of Wageningen in the Netherlands, which is based on a systematic approach to the gradual acquisition of knowledge. Privatisation did it help? One result of structural adjustment policies has been that the private sector is increasingly involved in providing extension services. But it has to be said that the group of people most in need of advice and support the poor farmers, female-headed households, female farmers and young farmers with neither experience nor land rarely have the funds or the credit necessary to pay for extension services. These people farm 65% of the land in Africa and there is a need to develop extension work with them, using participatory methods. From participation to action : interactive learning There are no ready solutions, no universal box of tools and tricks, for the extension worker and the range of situations s/he meets. What counts more than waiting for miracles to happen is to have a frame of mind with which the extension worker can deal with any situation, and the understanding that the farmer is not a simple consumer of information or training. Instead the farmer should be seen and recognised as the person who is actively engaged in an action-research project on her or his own land. 'So it s not a question of pushing a message, but rather of organising a process of reflection, and enabling the beneficiaries of extension programmes to take it on board, and to take on their responsibilities' purrs Jacques Mercoiret, a sociologist with the French institute CIEPAC. Many extension agencies now follow an approach which is based on the knowledge of the farmer, and on listening to and pulling out the best of it, rather than passing on pre-packed messages which may not be understood. Thus, the key guidelines for any extension work, at least ideally, should be to involve farmers in the work of observing changes in their fields, in discussing the diagnosis, and in gradually building up a collective process of analysis. It is known as interactive learning , a method which strengthens a community s inventiveness, encourages people to comment on their situation and to analyse it, to find solutions and to take action. This all takes time and phased preparation. Training means making time for understanding, and for experimentation, and this cannot happen without a painstaking preparation of practical tools for awareness-building. There is no room for improvisation here. Much can be said about the content of a diagnosis, an analysis of a situation and proposed solutions and testing them. They can also be illustrated in various forms, such as slides, poster sheets, videos and, less classically, through games, role playing and theatre (see boxes). To be relevant, these illustrations have to be firmly rooted in the local context and its realities. Here aspects of local culture, or sayings known to everyone, can be used to start off a discussion and dialogue. Locally available media (press, radio, booklets) can help extend the discussion and encourage farmers to voice their opinions. All these aspects are part of a range of tools which the extension worker can put to work, depending on the group being worked with. In the end it comes down to the extensionist working to create a consensus where the changes needed for development are indeed wanted, and to translate priorities so that technical measures can be taken at the right time. A question of timing: the right process, in the right place, at the right time. Further reading: Facilitating innovation for development*, P G H. Engel, M L Salomon, CTA/KIT/STOAS copublication, 1997, 240 pp. (book), 80 pp. (manual), ISBN 90 6832 1099, CTA No 823, 80 credit points. *Also see Comics with an Attitude, 'publications' page
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