On the third day of the joint CSI and AGCommons workshops is AGCommons Day. Today the focus shifts from looking mainly at the CSI community to looking at the broader AGCommons project.

On the agenda will be:

  • Presentation on Program goals, objectives, governance [Srikant Vasan, BMGF];
  • Phase 1 activities and deliverables [Enrica Porcari, CGIAR]
  • Presentation on Phase1: learning/consultation process, Result of scan, report on West Africa consultation [Jennifer Barnes, Rolf de By, KAi Sonder]
  •  AGCommons Quick Win Process and Outcomes- Overview and presentations
  • Panel discussion
  • AGCommons Partner model and resource mobilisation efforts
  • Building AGCommons as a sustainable community
  • Activity to look at and identify key opportunities for AGCommons
  • Report out and group prioritisation of opportunities
  • Poster session

Looks like a long and exciting day ahead.

Check out our social reporting on this blog, on our Flickr site, Twitter and Yammer (for CGIAR staff)

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Learning from successes in agricultural development is now more urgent than ever. Progress in feeding the world’s millions has slowed, while the challenge of feeding its future millions remains enormous and is subject to new uncertainties in the global food and agricultural system. To learn and share lessons from past successes, IFPRI, with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is leading an initiative titled “Millions Fed: Proven Successes in Agricultural Development” to document evidence on what works in agriculture—what sorts of policies, programs, and investments in agricultural development have actually reduced hunger and poverty.

IFPRI invite nominations highlighting interventions that have had a significant impact on food security, including those that have empowered women and vulnerable groups to improve their livelihoods. Nominations may include, for example, research and extension programs that have improved on-farm yields and outputs for small-scale farmers; public investment programs that have helped food-insecure consumers meet their daily nutritional requirements and accumulate assets; community-led efforts that have conserved soil, water, forests, and biodiversity; or market-based interventions that have strengthened the ability of small-scale farmers and food-insecure consumers to gain access to production inputs, rural services, and agricultural commodities.

You can submit a proposal at http://www.ifpri.org/millionsfed/call.asp . Call open until 31 December

Learning is also about celebrating successes!

Kenyan farmer Mary relies on her own instincts to decide which crops to plant or when to harvest. Like more than 70 percent of rural Africans who live in poverty, Mary depends on agriculture for her family’s food and livelihood. Farmers can see their farms and livelihood wiped out by weather patterns, crop diseases, or inadequate access to irrigation, roads, or markets. A farm’s location greatly affects its chance for success and productivity; however, local farmers do not have access to location-specific (geospatial) information about their farm’s area. And even though these farmers are the best sources of data about local conditions, they have no easy way to contribute to the information-gathering efforts. Providing farmers with geospatial information is one effective way to maximize their crop yields and market access, thereby improving livelihoods and reducing poverty rates.

Look at  www.agcommons.org  to see how a newly launched program plans to make sure farmers, like Mary,  are empowered to make timely decisions…

I had a chat with Maatougui Mohammad, researcher at ICARDA, who participated in the recently held Farmers’ Conference at ICARDA (4th-8th May) . Although perhaps one of the already ‘converted’, working on participatory plant breeding, he was very excited about  Farmers’ Conference. He said that it was really a dynamic and successful event bringing together farmers, scientists and others to focus particularly on the knowledge and experiences that farmers have.

“In my experience farmers have a lot of good knowledge, skills and experience-they are doing a lot of experimentation and implementation on their own, often with great success. We can learn a lot from them. The Farmers’ Conference gave them centre-stage to share with each other and also us-the research community. Because they also need our help, our research should take into account their situations, problems, what they know and what they are doing.”

Maatougui however indicated that as this was something new, of course there are challenges. A key challenge was that of language barriers. There was need for a lot of translation between the many languages and this takes a lot of time and effort.

We discussed the storytelling approach chosen for the conference with the response being that “stories are a good way of having the farmers share knowledge as it is like a synopsis of their experiences. It is a good way to talk to each other.” He did caution that “sometimes in stories the truly valuable content may only be a small part of what is shared” but followed this up by saying that ” the process itself is also very comfortable and empowering for them.” While he felt that stories were a useful approach for sharing knowledge, he suggested that this should be one part of the program of a knowledge sharing event like a Farmers’ Conference, with another key component being to work together in the fields. He also felt that it was necessary to have pictures, visuals, films etc as an addition to the stories to give people a better idea of conditions, problems, techniques, varieties, etc being discussed.
Maatougui felt very strongly that a positive component of the Farmers’ Conference was the time spent out in the fields, as this allowed for more context and reason to talk and discuss. He commented that another good way of communicating was through the Food and Seed Fair that was an activity which sprung up spontaneously during the Farmers’ Conference, in which farmers brought things to show and share.

For him the Farmers’ Conference was a good reminder of the fact that we work for farmers; that what we are doing is to develop technologies, varieties etc that will help improve the lives of farmers. Working together with and learning from farmers (in an event like this) helps to make research more appropriate by giving insight into problems, situations and needs on the ground as well as the innovation and knowledge that farmers may already have and be using.

The Farmers’ Conference also had other benefits. Maatougui pointed out that by facilitating farmers to share knowledge between themselves and learn from each other, this helps to create farmer-to-farmer extension, which is especially useful in countries where there is limited or even ineffective formal extension services. Farmers can feel that their knowledge is valuable and learn to share with other farmers. Introducing technology such as exchange of stories via cell phones can also be a useful mechanism for dissemination of farmer and research-generated knowledge.

Additional benefits coming out of such a knowledge sharing activity, that were indicated by Maatougui were:

*helping researchers to understand farmer expectations and needs
*listening to the farmers and working with them helps to develop trust.
*helping institutions to understand the context in which they are working
*helping us to plan research and understand how to disseminate
*learning alot about limitations to adoption

One thing to be improved, according to Maatougui, was that there should have been more researchers at the Farmers’ Conference, especially social scientists. He felt that scientists need to be more aware of what the farmers are thinking and doing and what they know in order to conduct better research and have better impact.

After visiting Ruqeia in Souran, Alessandra and I headed to the village of Lahessa outside of the town of Sweida, about an hour and half outside of Damascus. There we spent time with Camillia, Munifa, Ansaf, Ghazale, Ibdisam (5 women), and also Sammi (man)-all farmers who had participated in the Farmers’ Conference, held by ICARDA on May 4th-8th 2008.

We started off by asking them what could have been better for before-conference preparations. They responded that they would have liked someone to visit them before the conference to discuss about the conference, what would happen and what they would be expected to do.

While they had all gone to a conference before, e.g Farmers’ union, Women’s conference, they mentioned that they had never been to a conference like this one where they were allowed to share their knowledge and everyone listened to them. This helped them to gain confidence and learn alot.

We asked all of them what they think of stories/storytelling as an approach for sharing their knowledge with others and for learning from others. They all agreed that stories are better than speeches because “it is more like real life”. They pointed out that “if they do a speech they have to talk in formal language and will make mistakes. They feel more comfortable speaking in a story way.”

We discussed with them things they would like to see improved or different for an event like the Farmers’ Conference. They suggested that it would be better to have more open discussions and time for questions and answers. Aleassandra commented that while there was some time for open discussions and Q&A, because of the large number of farmers present-there were alot of stories to get through.
The farmers even proposed that some questions be asked directly to them, as they may otherwise never put up their hand to ask or answer a question.

When asked what they expected the conference to be like they replied that they expected stories to be told and some discussion to be had.But there was alot more happening at the conference. They liked going into the fields and discussing things there and also really enjoyed the Food Fair where they could look at seeds and products made from plants grown.

Their list of things they learnt at the conference was quite long, including
-ways of planting watermelon
-how to make crosses
-using fertiliser
-about nematodes
-putting thyme and garlic in the bags with seeds to avoid bugs eating them
-plant thyme in between wheat and barley to avoid nematodes

But what was really good about the conference for them was that it allowed them to interact with and learn from others.

When asked if they thought anyone learned anything from them, they responded that the people from Eritrea asked them some further questions about how they do their farming and most people were interested in the way they make bread.

When asked how they felt about being at the conference with scientists, they said that they liked being with the scientists and would like the scientists to listen to them. They think it is a good idea to deal directly with scientists and tell them their problems, ideas and knowledge. They don’t know if the scientists will accept the idea but they think they should work together. They would also like to be able to ask scientists questions and to learn from them. It will help to improve their agriculture.

The Farmers’ Conference helped them to learn and to feel more comfortable to work with scientists. This will help improve their work with the ICARDA Participatory Plant Breeding Program (PPB).

They were also encouraged now to tell more farmers in their village to participate in the PPB program (since they got a better understanding and appreciation of what it is doing).

When asked what they would like to have as way of getting and keeping knowledge from the conference, they said they would like printed materials (for those who are literate), and longer movies on the cell phones. They also told us that they use the radio-so this could be a possible mechanism to consider for sharing stories and messages.

Alessandra spent time showing the women the Conference website (on CD) and explaining the different ways they can access information from the conference-some of which is not yet available. Since there is a computer with internet available in the women’s union in town, Alessandra encouraged them to try to use it and look at the website.

Overall, they expressed to us that the Farmers’ Conference helped them to gain knowledge, skills and experience for doing agriculture. In addition it helped them to gain confidence.

They said “now we feel that we can discuss with people”

It gave them motivation to work. One lady said she will now not keep any of her fields empty, without plants.

An interesting discussion is growing on the ICARDA-organised Farmers’ Conference.

The previous post (by Nadia Manning entitled “Farmers’ Conference on Participatory breeding”) giving an overview of what happened at the innovative event has begun to receive some attention.

Alessandra Galie, ICARDA, who worked on the organising team has posted a few comments giving further insight into the conference from the perspective of both the organisers as well as some participants.

Alessandra highlights their choice of storytelling as a method for facilitating the sharing of knowledge by the farmers. After a review of a number of approaches, the ICARDA team decided to go with storytelling because:

“Story telling seemed to be flexible enough to accommodate any issues the participants would select as topics of discussion at the conference, and, at the same time, it seemed more informal than conventional presentations. Moreover, story telling seemed appropriate for the documentation of the conference. Stories can easily be reproduced in audio and written texts and more importantly, they lend themselves to oral transmission. Since local knowledge has traditionally been spread by word of mouth from farmers to farmers we were particularly happy the information shared at the conference could be exchanged in the form of stories.”

..which was re-affirmed by some of the farmers themselves, stating that

” Stories were a useful format to share information. They are easy to understand, they include issues of interest to farmers about agriculture and they can increase the skills of those who work in collaboration with farmers”. Comments by Egyptian participants on the last day of the conference.

Comments to the post can be found by scrolling down from the original post. Keep checking that space and join in! We would love to hear what others have to say.