Friday, September 30, 2011

Ethiopian Livestock Market Information System: Using ICT to deliver information to rural communities (1)

Post  and Photos by Lisa Cespedes (FAO) 

Today, during the Second Global AgriKnowledge Share Fair taking place at IFAD, Sintayehu Alemayehu, from Ethiopia, gave a presentation on the Ethiopian Livestock Market Information System, developed in 2005 by the Global Livestock Collaborative Research Support Program (GL-CRSP), being implemented by the Texas A&M University and funded by USAID.

The system delivers early warnings on livestock market information; this information is delivered in nearly real time to rural communities, pastoralists/livestock producers and traders in Ethiopia, not only in English, but also in Ahmaric language.This data is delivered by request, through Community Information Centers (CIC), via SMS, emails, radio, television, and the internet.

Sintayehu gave a lively demo on the  application's contents, which can be accessed here:

"The livelihood of a vast majority of people in East Africa is highly dependent on income from livestock and livestock products. Therefore, the development of reliable and timely livestock market information is vital for the development of the countries in the region and provides a basis for livestock producers and traders to make informed marketing decisions"

The Ethiopian Livestock Market Information System collects, analyzes, storages and disseminates livestock prices and volume market information. It provides complete price and volume data based on animal type, breed, age class, gender and grade at low cost. Finally, it integrates market information with livestock early warning system and expandable system to other commodities.
During today's session, experiences, lessons and challenges were discussed, in reference to the institutionalization of livestock market information and livestock early warning system  into governments' market information and early warning system.
Some of the key achievements of the  Ethiopian Livestock Market Information System are:
  • Speedy server deployed at Ministry’s headquarter
  • LMIS web portal/gateway for Ethiopia is currently hosted by MOARD
  • A steady flow of timely, regular and reliable livestock market information
  • Ministry personnel are successfully processing price and sales volume data from the database and disseminating market information   
  • LMIS used as benchmark to begin AMIS for crops in the country
  • Banks, private traders and government using the data 
For additional information visit:

What does it take to make a Share Fair happen? Don’t ask ‘what’, ask ‘who’!

Post by Johannes Schunter (UNDP)

sfrome, banner

When walking through the IFAD corridors this warm Italian September week one cannot help but be amazed by the buzzing, vibrant energy that is felt in every part of the building. People chat in corners, engage in up to 15 parallel group sessions, share their thoughts with someone with a video camera or sit in the hallway with their laptop on their lap, communicating one of their many impressions through email, Twitter or a blog. Over 600 participants, 160 projects, 200+ scheduled group or plenary sessions, and one is left with an immediate question: How on earth did they pull this off? After all, there is no professional event management company involved here that pulls the strings. This event is done by the sponsoring organizations themselves, with a surprisingly low budget and mostly with staff who – if they are not helping plan and implement knowledge fairs – have other jobs to do.
I talked to some of the organizers to get a small glimpse of the machinery that made this event happen behind the scenes.

Planning for this ShareFair started already in January 2011, with a one-day facilitated brainstorming workshop where the Rome-based stakeholders ( Bioversity International, CGIAR ICT-KM programme, FAO, IFAD and WFP) got together to determine the general direction and approach they wanted to take with this event, building on the first event that took place at FAO in 2009. After that a Steering Committee was established in February to plan the event.

As there is no general existing budget for Rome ShareFairs, the team members from the different host organizations had to raise funds for the significant logistical and programmatic requirements (which include necessities such as security, ambulance, infrastructure and communication expenses) as well as to fund travel expenses for proposals from participants who otherwise could not come to the fair and share their learnings. Yet, I was surprised to learn that this entire event is realized with notably less than $200,000 (actual and in-kind) accumulated resources overall.
Talking about proposals: roughly 300 proposals were submitted after the Steering Committee publicly announced the ShareFair through their website in May 2011. The submissions were reviewed and filtered down to about 160, the maximum capacity of content sessions that the IFAD building can accommodate during the three main days of the fair with up to 15 parallel sessions at a given time slot.

These sessions, however, are rarely self runners. If the thematic expert is not by chance also a communication professional, a facilitator is needed to help the presenter avoiding tiring PowerPoint slides and instead turn the presentation into an engaging, participatory learning session using knowledge sharing ( approaches. But where to get those versed facilitators from? Luckily, Knowledge Management staff in Rome are well connected with the Knowledge Management for Development Network (KM4Dev), a community of KM practitioners working in development. Additionally, a call was placed also within each of the participating organizations for facilitators. By calling on about 50+ volunteer facilitators, the ShareFair organizers were able to provide professional facilitation for almost all project presentations, drawing on a range of creative and participatory facilitation methodologies which were introduced in a pre-conference training day for participants interested in these tools.

The training sessions of this so-called “Training and Learning Day” included not only facilitation techniques, but also introductory sessions into a range of social media tools for knowledge exchange and communication, such as Twitter, Facebook, Photos, Blogs or Podcasts. That those sessions were not just theoretical exercises was demonstrated during the entire week by the social reporting team, a group of about 30+ social media enthusiasts who committed to report live from event sessions and interactions in between sessions through the full range of social media tools. This way, the immediate audience of a few hundred on-site participants could be extended to many thousands of interested practitioners that followed the event online, by reading blogs, viewing video interviews or responding to tweets posted during the event.

Finally, as a participant of the Fair, besides noticing some of the more visible faces of the fair that give announcements and introduce sessions, you will most likely run into one of the many volunteers who are supporting the logistics behind the scene at any given moment: as registration desk volunteers, as information focal points and helpful guides on each floor, behind the technology that provides meeting room infrastructure, WLAN access and live webcast, or as runners who help fixing the many little and bigger emergencies that we mostly don’t even notice as participants.
So again, what does it take to make such a ShareFair happen? It takes all those people, seen and unseen, and I think they deserve a collective tipping of hats for the astounding work they do. Or you just walk up to the next one you see and give that person a ‘thank you’. And if you bring them a cup of coffee they might even reward you with more interesting details on life behind the scenes of the ShareFair!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Growing local farmers: De-rooting poverty (194)

The Topic: An agricultural enterprise uses some of its excess capacity to provide support to smallholders in Ethiopia  
The Owner: Amare Abebaw Woreta (Frag Agro Industry)  
The facilitator/blogger: Riff Fullan (HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation)

The session: Amare told the story of how he - after graduating from school - established a small agricultural enterprise which became profitable after some time. But Amare noticed that the vast majority of farmers in the Amhara region where he was located were not improving their lives, they were only just getting by. They only had around 1/2 hectare of land per family and mostly relied on rain-fed agriculture. Amare's company decided to invite farmers to see what the company was doing and - for those who were interested - take up interest-free loans (based on a group of farmers, so the group would collectively have responsibility for repayment) to buy inputs and take up some of the company's practice of focusing on more profitable crops. The company also helped 'graduates' of its demonstration activities to form cooperatives and worked to ensure the coops had access to market information and could take advantage of the best prices. Half of the target group were female-headed households, half male-headed.

Following Amare's story, we decided to have a short Q&A followed by a loosely structured peer assist. The idea was to have a conversation triggered initially by immediate questions and observations from participants in the group, then to move on to a couple of key questions from Amare's side for which he was seeking input.

What did participants have to say? One of the first questions was why Amare did not charge interest on the loans. How could it be sustainable? Amare responded that it was a trust issue: farmers were used to seeing microfinance institutions providing loans - often at high interest rates - that also required collateral (e.g. a goat, a cow), which represented a huge risk for the farmers. Amare wanted to invite interested farmers to take part in the innovative behaviour based on their experiences of seeing how things were done on the company farm, and without having the risk overhead.

Still, there was a feeling that the company could charge a small amount of interest in order to support the continuing program of farmer training, especially after its initial success with several groups of farmers over several years (totalling around 70 farmers so far). What else? Maybe forming a marketing company that could help farmers and coops link up more effectively to markets. Other ideas around sustainability included:
  • the notion that support for the whole value chain needed to be considered (finance, marketing, information, logistics, etc), and that part of the sustainability equation was capacity building of these new coops (where most members might be illiterate and/or have little education or experience along the value chain);
  • another is that farmers needed to have a sense of ownership for such coops to thrive. In this context, the voluntary and low-risk nature of the venture really helps;
  • a third is the possibility to mobilize educated youth who could help with some aspects of running/organising activities and thereby generate a bit of income for themselves while filling some of the skills gaps the farmers have;
  • in terms of changing production processes, the idea was raised that processing of agricultural outputs (e.g. mangoes into mango juice) and selling a higher value-added product could help on the sustainability front.
The final two threads that were briefly covered in our group peer assist/conversation, included the potential for additional activities to be boosted, given that the normal agricultural season runs from roughly April-Oct, so there is usually some time when farmers are not so busy, especially if they depend on the rains. Second was the whole challenge of climate change......most farmers have heard little or nothing about it, and anyway look at the vagaries of the weather as God's will rather than being tied to climate change. How can dialogues be undertaken that respect different world views yet still promote active adaptation? One idea was raised that had been mentioned in another sharefair session, the 'theatre of the oppressed' a methodology made famous by Brazilian Augusto Boal in the 60s and influenced by the 'pedagogy of the oppressed' methodology of his countryman, the educator Paulo Freire.

In a nutshell, both approaches work to engage community members in describing/perceiving and transforming the contexts in which they live. They aspire to a high level of ownership and definition of the problematique and approaches to overcoming key challenges by those whose lives are most directly affected. This could be a way for the farmers in this Ethiopian case to incorporate climate change issues and solutions into their own worldviews and ways of living.

All-in-all, a very interesting and wide-ranging conversation. I know Amare will go home with lots of ideas to try out!

Scaling-up rural innovations: lessons from the learning route (244)

Post by Andrea Rudiger (FAO) 

In this session a new training method was presented: the learning route!

In a video of a learning route on microfinance and gender in Uganda illustrated this method figuratively, which was called by participants “a mobile rural university”. (You find the video on the homepage of PROCASURs website

Participants of a learning route do not look at endless power point presentations, but go on an actual trip together. This trip takes them from one successful and innovative project in the thematic area of the route to the next. In the case of Uganda, they visited a project in Bukonso, where illiterate women develop a vision of what they want to achieve during the next five years by drawing ‘vision posters’. The trip continues to another part of Uganda, where women self-select into groups and thus use their social capital and trust as an asset for successful small business projects and to access financing.

Participants range from politicians and entrepreneurs to NGO workers and IFAD staff. PROCASUR must often make the difficult choice of selecting roughly 15 participants out of hundreds of applicants from all over the world for a route. Some of them are self-sponsored, as for example a Chinese government official who joined the route in Uganda. Others are sponsored by IFAD/PROCASUR. Before starting the trip to carefully selected projects, usually in one country, participants are required to prepare thoroughly, by developing a concrete question, which they aim to answer through the trip and by reading up on the projects.
The end product is the so called innovation plan, which goes through five phases of drafting and revision before, during and after the actual route. This plan outlines which new technologies and practices the participant aims to use in his or her context and how they are adapted to the situation on the ground. In the end, all plans are submitted for a competition and the best plan will be supported with an amount ranging from €3,000 to €10,000. 

There is a growing demand for learning routes all over the world (the latest one was just completed in Seville, Spain) and on a range of topics (e.g. extractive industries). This way technologies travel from one continent to the other. For example, participants from Ecuador from a microfinance bank went on a learning route to Malawi, where they learnt how mobiles are used for banking in the country. This technology is now being successfully applied in Ecuador and the revenue of the company rose by $600,000 as a result.
Those who developed this new training method envision it both as a way to make themselves unnecessary as soon as possible and to up-scale applied technologies which work successfully on a local level. One impressive example of what policy dialogue and up-scaling can look like comes from the Peru route. Participants from Vietnam went back to their country and within a period of months a law was passed which stated that financial allocations should be done only by competition.

Learning routes use local knowledge and empower practitioners. They seem to offer many advantages over traditional training methods, but they face one major challenge: they are very cost-intensive.

Giving a voice to young professionals through agricultural on-line events (30)

Post by Marina Cherbonnier (YPARD)

I was rather delighted to head to my session with, fresh in mind, one of the last advices from the « Communities of Practice clinic» that I was just leaving:
« First of all, launch informal discussions with people you envisage as beneficiaries of your community of practice and simply ask them what they want and need! »

I was going towards the good direction!

Presenting YPARD’s agricultural online events for giving a voice to our Young Professionals’ community… that’s what it was about…

but it was even more about launching an interactive discussion, with the people attending the session, on how to get more youth involved in (YPARD) online events*.

Let me jump into the conclusions:

Strengthen your social media strategy, your partnerships and your promotion
This was the conclusion of a previous discussion on the same topic in a previous share fair. How concretely apply this?
  • Express and promote what Young Professionals (can) gain from participating to YPARD online events**. Give concrete examples of the advantages that some previous participants got from it. Brand it as « success stories ». 
  • Address challenges such as shyness to contribute, lack of confidence of young professionals (« My opinion is not relevant »), cultural tradition of the youth to keep silent as a respect to older people. How to Answer this?  Show to the youth that you (community manager or whatever is your name), you are here for them as a supporter, an advisor and ready to help and assist them technically such as on the content itself.
  • Link YPARD representatives in the different regions and countries to the rest of the community more, so that the WHOLE community feels engaged in the movement. YPARD members are not simple followers but have each a role to play! Do you hear the key word “ownership” resonating loudly here? ( -note : YPARD is a worldwilde and decentralized movement -) 
  • Use local and national newspapers, media and organisations to promote the online events as much as it can be!

Solicit content / subjects of interest
  • Encourage young professionals or supporters of youth’s cause to talk about local projects or local strategic decisions. Why ? I guess I don’t need to recall how much this is valuable as “food for thoughts”. Let me rather highlight that: 
    • People like to learn about on-the-ground experience by individuals; people like to be told stories in which they can possibly identify themselves or recognize some elements from their own experience. 
    • We only require young professionals to talk about their own experience in the simplest way they can… There shouldn’t be any fear of being « wrong » in telling their story. What do they know more than their daily life and reality? 
    • Make sure that the individuals’ testimonies are combined to a person’s profile and a picture. It makes the thing much more personal and friendly!
  • Get conversations' key leaders for moderating the e-discussions. It enables to orient discussions into deeper considerations. These leaders could possibly be some specialists and recognized people. This gives more credibility to the discussions. 

Provide attractive types of events
Blogs and discussions are most appreciated if there is a way for the contributor to see the number of views, to have his/her post “liked” and shared, to receive comments.
  • Pictures and videos attract more people, particularly the ones who are not sensitized to agriculture. It is indeed livelier, more fun and it humanizes concepts, projects, policies and evaluations. 
  • The idea of developing contests has been emphasized as very appealing for young professionals. Being in competition and winning a price gets the things exciting. Why not get the opportunity to attend a conference or a forum and represent the movement created online on specific topics? 
  • Video contests while they could seem quite time consuming for participants could be proposed in a way that only short interviews, snapshots of Young Professionals, series of few pictures are required. 
  • E-conferences are much appreciated. Being able to follow a session through streaming while carrying on with some task in the office is seen as very convenient. Being able to contribute through social media on live is also very engaging.
Should we create a “free zone” on YPARD Website for Young Professionals to express themselves simply the way they want it, with text, pictures, videos, SONGS, drawings etc etc?… I am starting imagining a fresco similar to Nancy White’s drawings… A big one, where the whole community would have putted its pieces… There would be some sound as background and animated shots embedded… It looks good from here… Let’s push the thoughts and actions further…

It was a small session but with high and thoughtful participation! I thank once again the participants! Others, your comments are most welcome!

* Online events can be series of blogs, e-discussions, e-consultations, e-conferences, pictures galleries/exhibitions, video contests… songs contests, drawing exhibition etc etc…

** Benefits from contributing to YPARD online events: Learn from others and get inspired from their experience, create a strong network with your peers, “experienced professionals” and partners organisations, gain visibility, gain credibility and get a voice as an individual and as a community of youth; have your say on strategic and political level; get YPARD be the echo of your issues in strategic debates and furthermore get strategic decisions be in phase with what impact you!

Contact: Marina Cherbonnier, YPARD (Young Professionals’ Platform for Agricultural Research for Development)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Investing in Young People is the Key for Agricultural Development (38)

Post and photos by Massimiliano Terzini (FAO)

“The future of agriculture is in the hands of young people”. It seems like the words of Director-General of Bioversity International, Emile Frison, during Tuesday’s inaugural session of the Share Fair 2011, have not been spoken in vain.

Indeed, during the session on “Partnership with young farmers to promote collective action and entrepreneurship development” the focus was on young people as the key for agriculture development. The main topics were: knowledge sharing, access to agriculture skills and promotion of collective action.

Partnership with young people to promote collective action and entrepreneurship development (38)

During the first part of the session Sintandji Charlemagne presented the Songhai project, which committed to training programs for young people to build and develop their human and technical skills in the agricultural field. Songhai is helping them overcome barriers, like access to market, by creating a network of young farmers in Africa to provide them with their own space to succeed in agriculture. Training is not enough, though; Songhai is also directly engaging with young people to give them a better imagine of agriculture, presenting it as a chance for a successful career.

The second part of the session was dedicated to the project presented to IFAD by the Movement for Catholic Agricultural and Rural Youth (MIJARC). George Fernandez, president of MIJARC, spoke passionately about the importance of agriculture, as the key for development and how it is crucial to invest in young people and help them emerging in the agribusiness with pragmatic and feasible projects. MIJARC is engaging in a programme to reflect on how to facilitate access of rural youth to farming activities. The objective is to identify the needs and concerns of young people involved in agriculture all over the world, taking them at the core of development projects and thus facilitating youth access to agriculture activities. The results of this initiative are contributing to the formulation of successful measures and policies, meeting young rural people specific needs. Moreover young farmers and their organizations will gain space for dialogue and will be able to strengthen partnerships with the major actors of the agricultural sector.

Partnership with young people to promote collective action and entrepreneurship development (38)

What came out from this session is the widespread belief of the importance of linking knowledge sharing to collective action, and youth really need to be organized in formalized structure in order to have a chance to succeed. Songhai Centre and MIJARC are going towards the right direction.

Find out more

Weather index insurance: Building smallholder producers resilience, and experience in China (76)

Post by Emily Coleman

Through two photos, Weijing Wang - Country Programme Officer for China, illustrated two important reasons why weather index-based insurance is being used as a viable alternative to traditional multi-peril crop insurance in China. The insurance agent in the field, who after every perceived yield loss, has to travel 24-7 to visit every smallholder farm and assess the actual damage caused. The farmer looking at his crops, who faces the dilemma of whether or not to invest extra money to improve production, for fear of losing his investment and more if bad weather strikes.

Weather index-insurance eliminates these two risks. It responds to an objective parameter, such as rainfall or temperature, at a defined weather station during an agreed period of time. The parameters of the insurance contract are set to correlate as closely as possible with the damages suffered by the farmer.

The insurance agent from the photo we saw doesn’t have to go around to each farm and assess the loss, as all farmers  within a defined area receive pay-outs based on the same contract and measurement at the same station. This can reduce the transaction costs for the insurers and importantly the time it takes for the farmer to be compensated for their loss.

The Weather Risk Management Facility – a joint initiative of IFAD and WFP - carried out the first weather index-based insurance pilot in China from 2008 to 2010. A large element of this pilot was building the technical capacities of the local stakeholders in weather index-based insurance, particularly Guoyuan Insurance Company who learnt how to calculate indexes and design contracts for this new product.
A follow-up pilot was initiated by the Chinese government and Guoyuan Insurance Company. This time, building on what they had learnt from IFAD and WFP, they greatly expanded coverage – both in terms of number of people insured, and the geographical area.

During 2011, there was low temperature and drought, enough to trigger a payout. The payout was fast,  and whilst farmers could tap into this amount to recover their production, they were still waiting for the compensation from the additional multi-peril crop insurance which relies on in-field assessments.
Responding to questions from the floor, Weijing explained that since that very first IFAD-WFP pilot, interest in weather index-based insurance in the country is growing. The government, insurance companies, and other donors are all seeing a future in weather index-based insurance for China. Most importantly, farmers are beginning to change their attitude too. They are now beginning to trust in this type of financial product more than we saw in the initial pilot, and interestingly, they are becoming more aware of the weather risk facing them and seeking out new online information channels on how to manage it.

Whilst not every area, country, or weather pattern may be suited to weather index-based insurance, the benefits are already evident in China, and the future looks sunny!

For more information:

Innovative Partnerships and Multistakeholder Approaches Promoted in the RAS Context (229)

Post and photos by Marylaure Crettaz (SDC) and Nara Weigel (Helvetas)

The 'river of life' drawing above was completed by the green cards in the course of the session and served as a storyline for the thematic input by Marylaure Crettaz (Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation) and Nara Weigel (HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation). The story started in the mountains with a personal reflection of Marylaure and continued with a brief introduction of SDC's interest in Rural Advisory Services (RAS) most recently expressed through providing support to the GFRAS (Global Forum on Rural Advisory Services). SDC's reorganisation including the creation of thematic networks - one of them being the Agriculture + Rural development network open to SDC staff and its partners - was illustrated as a bend in the river! The network has been capitalizing RAS experiences. This led to the presentation of two initiatives one at project level in Bangladesh and the other at a global level - where public private partnerships were at the core. See below for an illustration of the key actors involved.

Innovative Partnerships and Multistakeholder Approaches Promoted in the RAS Context (229)

The presentation served as a basis to subsequent discussions in a world cafe format on (1) the added value of public private partnerships - at project and global levels for the farmers and (2) whether private sector involvement at both levels leads to more sustainability. Participants agreed that the success of public private partnerships depends very much on the context. Nevertheless, most participants feel that private sector involvement can lead to new market opportunities for farmers as well as more efficient and relevant services, e.g. through facilitating a better flow of information. Under certain conditions (i.e. social inclusion) this can lead to improved livelihood opportunities. It was also highlighted that the role of the public sector remains crucial regarding quality control and setting enabling environments and policies. Finally, participants pointed out that civil society is an important actor, e.g. farmers as drivers of change and NGOs as facilitators. Nothing new under the sun of Rome. ;-)

Innovative Partnerships and Multistakeholder Approaches Promoted in the RAS Context (229)

Innovative ways of collecting and sharing food security data in East and Central Africa (31)

 Post by Elena Di Paola (FAO)

On the 27th of September, in his session on “Innovative ways of collecting and sharing food security data in East and Central Africa”, Phillip Fong (FAO) who is based in Nairobi, told us about the success of digital pen and mobile data collection technology.

Field workers in Central and East Africa often face a difficult problem: Sending the data they collect about animal health to government specialists in a timely way to prevent epidemics. Unfortunately, the lack of high tech tools and poor computer literacy delayed the delivery of information by months.

One solution developed was an apparently simple solution: Pen and paper. Not the usual ones, though. A digital pen and paper technology that collect data as the workers write it down on special paper forms, and then send it through the mobile network to a central database. Each person in charge of gathering the information is given a set of paper forms to record the animal health data, a pen that contains a digital camera and a microprocessor, and a mobile phone. When the user writes on the form, the camera records the marks made by the pen. After completing the survey, the user ticks the “send box” inducing the pen to make a Bluetooth connection to the mobile phone, which then transmits the data to the server.

The outcome of the data received in database format is analyzed and validated by professional veterinarians. This simplifies the compilation of statistics and facilitates prompt intervention in case a possible epidemic is suspected.This technology is cost efficient when applied to large volumes.

“Simply amazing”, “I am extremely surprised”, “Wow, never heard of it” were some of the comments from the participants in the session on this project that is changing lives.

Highlights from Marc Davies' keynote on 'Demystifying Private-Public Partnerships'

TheWaterChannel on the ground (121)

Post by Lenneke Knoop 

On Monday, several of you were asked the following question: "what does a water buffer mean to you?" These videos were shown in Tuesdays’ session of TheWaterChannel: “TheWaterChannel on the Ground”. As it was a no-PowerPoint zone, you can get a feeling of what happened in the session by watching the Prezi, which is an alternative way of presenting. There was an interesting discussion on the importance of getting the knowledge to the right persons. Mr Nii Quaye-Kumah from the embassy of Ghana explained that materials as the DVD box Water Management in Motion should be distributed to the practitioners at the 170 districts in Ghana.

In the second part of the session a new publication was launched: Transforming Landscapes Transforming Lives, the business of sustainable water buffer management in which QR codes link to videos on TheWaterChannel. For more info and personal explanation on this book and TheWaterChannel, please visit the table outside the IFAD building close to the chill out corner!

More info: &

Net-Map: an introduction (177)

Post and Video by Paolo Brunello

Those who could not make it to the workshop on Monday had a chance to learn about Net-Map on Tuesday, during this session.

The AgTalk continued by explaining the different steps of net-mapping with some concrete examples from the field and then went on describing the equipment needed to net-map. But when you have a net-map in your hands, what do you do with it? How do you go about to analyse it? We looked at a few concrete examples and how to use the Visualyzer 2.0 software to input the net-map from paper into a computer so that it can be analysed one layer of link at a time.

Net-map visualyzed map (177)
After the talk was over people asked precise questions about the method and how to apply it to their specific context, wondering how one can go from the map as a snapshot of the reality as it is perceived by net-mappers to a coherent action to take advantage of the insights the maps has brought about. This goes beyond what the method can do though, as the will to act upon those insights and change inevitably stays with the people, not with a technique, no matter how great this can be.

Net-map (177)

The session will be repeated on wednesday during the open space hour (17:00) in C100. More info about net-map is available at

DGroups going mobile (85)

Post and Mindmap by Paolo Brunello

Are you one of the 125.000 Dgroup users? Dgroup is a platform similar to yahoogroups or googlegroups but it is not own by a private company, rather it is supported by a consortium of development organisations to allow for free and easy communication among groups of interests or communities of practices. It is 90% based on email listservs, although it has more advanced features like a file repository - the library.

The Dgroup users who participated in this session where asked by the Dgroups developer and interface designers to brainstorm about the possibilities that a mobile app could open up in terms of different users and uses of the platform. The discussion took place in 2 groups who then shared their insights and proposals (see picture).


Sweet Power of Cooperatives: Paving the Way for a flourishing organic export business (56)

Post by Nadejda Loumbeva

Susanne Boetekers, Monica Berreishem and Indira Franco from Fairtrade International together with Luis Dario Ruiz Diaz from the Manduvira Cooperative discussed the case of the Manduvira Cooperative in Paraguay .

Susanne, Monica and Indira first gave an introduction to Fairtrade and how it supports small producers. Generally, Fairtrade is a partnership between consumers, producers, producer networks and labelling/certification organisations. It is there to help small producers be better off socially, economically and environmentally. Because small producers are often at most disadvantage when trading their goods on local and international markets, Fairtrade cooperatives are particularly helpful by getting them to join forces, get support from organisations like Fairtrade International and support one another, this way building sustainable agriculture capacity.

Then, Mr Luis Diaz from The Manduvira Cooperative told the Cooperative story. It started off as an initiative of teachers in the village of Arroyos y Esteros in Paraguay to support and empower small producers of sugar and sugar cane. Sadly, single producers often have no power to negotiate a fair price for their product and this makes them easy to exploit. It took a lot of time and support from Fairtrade International to get the Manduvira Cooperative to work as intended. Currently, the Cooperative is a shining example of how a small community can export its produce at its own price, without interfacing with intermediaries in the process. Members of the Cooperative receive a premium which enables them to improve the quality of their produce and livelihoods. The Cooperative also sends member children to school. Members get support from the Cooperative in exchange of abiding by organic and sustainable agriculture standards. 'Although a small organisation, we think big' Mr Luis Diaz said at the session.

Greening the Economy through Agriculture: The FAO message for the Rio +20 Conference in 2012 (20)

Post by Stéphane Jost, Nadejda Loumbeva and Domitille Vallee - FAO

Stéphane Jost from FAO gave an overview of the preparation process for the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Developement and the FAO position on greening the world economies to adapt to global and local climatic changes and achieve sustainable development on our planet. 'It is not possible to green the economies without agriculture' Stéphane said. In the framework of its “Greening the Economy with Agriculture” initiative, FAO analysed the linkages between the four pillars of food security (availability, access, stability and utilization) and the four pillars of sustainable development, i.e., environmental, economic, social and governance. There should be a focus on more sustainable and low foot-print production systems, ecological certification, support to small holders and promotion of sustainable diets, amongst others. In the second half of the session, the group brainstormed answers to two questions: 1. Is the FAO message complete? How does it resonate with stakeholders? and 2. What opportunities for collaboration are there? The process framework followed was rotating peer assist.

The groups insisted on the importance to think of a green agriculture = sustainable agriculture that would imply:
  • diversity - crops, seeds, farming systems etc, building resilience in the system, which goes against the mono-cropping; food systems approaches in a growingly urban economy (from producer to consumer – looking at the entire value chains) : the food processing and marketing are as important as the production ; the food waste issues should be tackled
  • global mechanisms of natural resources management - enabling sustainable management of land and water in particular - This implies to increase linkages across multiple players, in particular various ministries (agriculture, forestry, fisheries, environment,...);
  • equity : the poorer, and most vulnerable should take part in problem-solutions at their levels;
  • working at various scales: countries are different and there is no blanket agriculture solution - urban, industrial and rural economies need different approaches
  • insisting on education as an important way to promote changes in consumption habits and behaviours related for instance to waste management.
  • local authority have an important role to play, for instance through procurement policies - which do not imply new rules or legislations - (example of provision of organic products for school feeding in Italy);
  • several opportunities can be used to promote this message on the importance of agriculture for the green economy, as for instance the Farmers' Forum to be organised by IFAD in early 2012.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A well told story: Effective communication for development

A inspiring talk opened the first day of the Share Fair unfolding in Rome from today to Thursday 29 September. Rob Burnet leads Well Told Story, a multi-award-winning Kenyan communications company which pulls together comic books, syndicated FM radio, SMS, social media, web, video animation, strategy and science to help change the way people live, think, act and govern in East Africa.

In his talk, he shared with the audience his experiences and focussed specifically on how to make agriculture more attractive to young people in Africa. In this interview, he summaries the main points of his key note address.

According to Rob, when you want to reach young people with ideas about agriculture, it is about taking the research that we know it works and getting it into the life of people that need to benefit from it.

Secondly, it has to be about 'pull', and it can't be about 'push': "it is about packaging ideas that the youth will take and run away with" says Rob.

Moreover, according to Rob it we fell short of making good research outputs and ideas accessible form the ones that have to benefit from them, "we might as well go home".

In this sense, Rob concludes with a provocative statement as he encourages the CGIAR to spend 30% its budget on research communication, making sure that the research outputs produced during the past 10 years reach the people they are intended to benefit. "We do this, and we really can change the world."

Better safe than sorry - how do you wash salad greens at home? (2)

Post by Elena Di Paola (FAO) - Picture by Luca Servo (FAO)

How accurate are we when it comes to wash salad greens? Are we aware they often come from contaminated fields (especially in West Africa)?
Are we really able to remove dangerous pathogens from the salad we eat?

Under the IFAD tent, Dr. Philip Amoah from CGIAR, IWMI from Ghana, with his lively style and effective practical approach, handed out very useful suggestions on how to do the job right. Participants passing his stand were asked how they wash salad at home. Some of them simply rinse it with water, others also rub it...but this is definitely not enough! It seems that most of them use the wrong method, but Philip and his colleague Juliana (who was managing the practical demonstration) were there to give instructions.

Juliana displayed the different methods used to wash salad in West Africa, most of these are not safe and should be replaced with the correct one that consists of the following:
  1. Use half tablet of chlorine in five litres of water to wash salad
  2. Or use a knife tip or one tablet of potassium permanganate in 5 litres of water
  3. Or use a tea spoon of "Eau de Javel" (bleach) in five litres of water
  4. Or use one part of vinager in five parts of clean water
  5. Each time the vegetable should be soaked for five-ten minutes and then rinsed with clean water.
An interesting video on kitchen safety options was shown during the demonstration for more detailed information.

The cherry on the cake (or should we say in the salad?!) were the fresh sandwiches made with accurately washed lettuce, served to those stopping by the stand and following the demonstration!

Even the Ambassador of Ghana paid her compliments; after visiting the stand she volunteered to wash some salad leaves according to the safe method.

Community radio an extension to telecentre. What is the next frontier? (154)

Post and photos by Massimiliano Terzini

The session “Community radio an extension to telecentre. What is the next frontier?” has been a great example of how information and communication technologies foster socio-economic development for indigenous people. But this was not the only thing that came out from the session. It was more about the story of a dream. The dream to build the first community radio in Malaysia.

John Tarawe, the man with the dream, provided the participants with a passionate and inspiring speech on how he achieved his life’s goal. He showed how even someone without education and without a background on information technology, as John Tarawe said he is, can make an effective contribution to improve the standard of living of an indigenous community.

Community radio an extension to telecentre. What is the next frontier? (154)

The station will be managed and operated by the Bario community residents themselves; broadcasting much of its material in the local Kelabit language. The radio represents a real need for the community and from this coming October it will function as the only tool in alerting on sensitive issues; but more important, it will help enrich and preserve the indigenous dying language, traditions and culture.

The radio will provide isolated communities, left behind by national development, with the chance to speak up and be more visible in the mainstream media.

These are the main expected results of the installation of the community radio in Bario:
  • A more cohesive community; airing and discussion of social problems.
  • A better connected population; rapid and widespread communication of important messages.
  • More social inclusion by reaching everyone in their homes.
  • A more democratic organization.
  • More culturally robust people.
John Tarawe invited all the participants to the Third eBario Knowledge Fair, 16-18 November 2011.Learn more on

My tweets from the session:
Don't believe those who tell you that your dream cannot become true! J
Tarawe session 154

Everything is possible when you have strategy and timing! Making a dream
come true is possible! John Tarawe session 154

Should Development Agencies talk more about Business and less about Development? (43)

Post by Siobhan Kelly (FAO) and Cecile Berthaud (IFAD)
Photos by Gauri Salokhe (FAO)

Development practitioners and Share Fair participants came together to discuss experiences and challenges at today’s session on engaging with the Private Sector.

Direct engagement with the private sector to fight rural poverty (43)

A few key lessons emerged from the discussion on which private sector, what kind of support, and what role for governments and development agencies. Here is what the two of us could gather:
  • Farmers’ Organization and Integration into Value Chains. While organization of smallholders is key for their integration in value chains it can take many forms depending on the commodity and context such as formal farmer organizations, informal self-help groups and contract farming;

  • Support to Production versus Value Chain Development. Support to farmer groups should first ensure that farmers are good and efficient suppliers for their buyers and are making a profit on their core business before investing and diversifying resources in additional businesses further down the value chain;

  • Role of the Public Sector and Fairness. Government support is key for ensuring a favourable business enabling environment. However their involvement depends on local contexts and needs and trust from the private sector. Development agencies can effectively promote enabling policies if their support is linked to specific commodities, markets and interventions and avoids creating distortions;

  • Financing the Private Sector. There is a role for development agencies as there is a real issue of engaging banks to work with the private sector for pro-poor agricultural development in terms of long-term financing, reasonable interest rates and equity funding. There were other challenging issues discussed such as production models and prices.
The session ended up with participants using cards for a ‘triad’ brainstorming (with the persons sitting next to them in the room). The cards (below) nicely showed the whole spectrum of engagement with the private sector, from the policy environment to support to intermediaries and direct incentives to the private sector to work with small producers.

Direct engagement with the private sector to fight rural poverty (43)

Direct engagement with the private sector to fight rural poverty (43)

Net-Map - a technique to support strategic planning and monitoring and evaluation

post and images by Paolo Brunello.

The promises of Net-map appeal to many judging from the number of people who attended this workshop: indeed everyone admitted to have felt puzzled by complexity, overwhelmed by it, so when you propose a method to harness that complexity instead of succumbing to it, people respond.

Net-Map session with Paolo Brunello

In fact Net-Map is a technique that allows for zooming out of our own little clearance of knowledge and hover above it, so that we can grasp the wider context and make sense of it.We started with a "stone in the pond". It's a quick and effective technique to get a feeling of the group and it works like this: people stand in the middle of the room and who feels like it starts off by saying something along the line of: "Hi, I'm Judith, I work in farmers empowerment in Ghana and what I would like to get out of this session is a method to help me engage them more effectively". Everyone will then move, standing very close to Judith if they share her expectation or further away if they don't, along a continuum, like waves of a pond when a stone is thrown in the middle. Thus in few minutes we realised that there was a common interest in learning Net-Map both for strategic planning and monitoring and evaluation, in other words both to create a shared vision of the situation in order to optimise coordinated action and also to visualise the state of things at different times during a process, thus allowing for pre-post comparison. Almost everyone was new to Net-map so the challenge to learn it in such a short time was big. After a short introduction to the basic steps of the method, three subgroups were created and started to work right away on their maps: they first chose a case study and identified the core question: "Who influences the success of...." and then started writing the names of all the different stakeholders on post-it notes to be placed on the map. Then they selected some relevant links connecting the different stakeholders, like money flow - who is paying whom? - or training - who is training whom? - and they drawn these links using different colors. Then they started assessing the relative influence of each actor in answering that original question, using some wooden discs to build "influence towers" besides each actor.

Net-Map session with Paolo Brunello

The final result was a map that portrayed the perceived distribution of power in the system under exam. But perhaps even more important was the process that lead to that map, since every member of the group had to explain why they thougth a certain actor was more - or less - influential, thus making their premises explicit. This in one of the key feature of Net-Map: having to draw together, net-mappers are "forced" to share their implicit knowledge of the system under exam making it visible to others, so that we assist to a mutual "perception tuning" that can greatly help the coordination of any subsequent action. While the exercise was going on, some participants voluteered to take an observer's role, to focus on the process of net-mapping without being caught into the specific details of the case study. This then allowed the trainers to address the most burning questions in the final plenary discussion.Finally, as an evaluation, we asked the participants to line up according to their degree of willingness to use Net-Map in the near future and we were pleased to see that the majority of them were optimistic in trying it out in their context.

Net-Map session with Paolo Brunello

Monday, September 26, 2011

Share Fair Day 0 - A conversation with Etienne Wenger

There couldn't have been a more inspiring keynote speech to open the Day 0 of the Share Fair here in Rome today. Etienne Wenger, a globally recognized thought leader in the field of social learning theory, communities of practice and their application to organizations, deliver a keynote address on “Communities of practice and strategic capabilities”. In fact, Etienne's talk was not just the usual key note address: after providing food for thought on communities of practices, he involved participants in lively fish bowl conversation.

After the session, we had the chance to talk with Etienne and to capture the essence of his talk in the short interview below.


According to Etienne, communities of practices are a vehicle to develop strategic capabilities within an organisation. He also underlines how the discourse around knowledge sharing and CoPs needs to change somehow: too often we focus only on the operational level of knowledge sharing, as opposed to a more strategic conversation about the domains where an organisation needs to excel, and the creation of spaces where staff can engage and develop those capabilities.