Monday, October 10, 2011

Experiences and lessons learned of rural transformation: Why institutions matter (39)

Post by Andrea Rudiger (FAO) 

In this session a group of four panellists presented and discussed examples from India, Ethiopia, Niger and East Africa for successfully building rural institutions, facilitated by IFADs Tom Anyonge.

Truly fascinating was the example from India presented by Judith (FAO). Women self-help groups or saving associations have working for almost 30 years in the Indian state Maharashtra. During the past five to eight years these groups started associating into federations. Two to three hundred women form community managed resource centres. The issues addressed by these groups go far beyond the traditional themes of a savings association. Women started proactively taking on social issues, such as domestic violence. They bring in banks for more project funding or experts, like livestock specialists when needed. Judith also openly shared what she sees as the three major challenges of these relatively new institutions: politicization, “overempowerment” and corruption.

A reoccurring theme across all contributions was the sustainability of rural institutions. Panellists identified links as key to sustainability. This means linking new institutions (1) to existing traditional organisations as well as (2) to higher levels of government. In most of the examples presented new institutions were created by external actors. For such structures to endure there must not only be support from local community, i.e. the demand or the need for new institution must be widely recognized. For such an institution to work there must be ownership by the local community. For external actors this means their role cannot merely be to put structures into place, but to build strategically the capacity of the members to own the institutions and to plan for sustainability. However, the building of new institutions often goes hand in hand with attitude change.

Especially when working in rural communities, we have to be a little more generous in giving time to identify and respond to the need for change. It was encouraging to hear how much awareness there is for the role of effective institutions in collective action, resource management, improved marketing of agricultural products, access to financial resources or more generally, in building better rural livelihoods. The grand words and the abstract concepts, which we often use when talking about social institutions make me aware how intangible institutions are and how difficult it is and will be to assess their effectiveness and sustainability.

Knowledge management planning

Post by Edgar Tan 

Knowledge management projects typically require significant awareness raising, education and change management efforts to get buy-in and participation from operational level managers. Such managers are often impatient with theoretical KM frameworks and concepts or high level strategies, and they can easily dismiss KM as too fuzzy and impractical to be useful. Knowledge managers frequently find themselves preoccupied with fighting defensive actions around understanding and buy-in, instead of directly planning, orchestrating and executing knowledge management strategies and programmes.

In the KM Planning workshop Edgar Tan and Kim Martins took the participants through a facilitated and staged participatory planning process using a set of performance support tools to:
  • diagnose specific pain points in the operations that can be supported through KM 
  • identify cultural factors that support or inhibit more effective knowledge sharing and use 
  • focus managers on the areas they believe are of highest priority to them
  • help managers identify appropriate KM approaches, methods and tools to support their priority areas 
The value of a participatory planning approach is that operational managers are themselves working with the KM team to identify the main components of a KM intervention, rather than having a KM team impose a solution from outside. This removes much of the burden of getting buy-in (because prioritisation and selection of approaches are done by the managers themselves), and the awareness and education process is focused on explaining the approaches and methods that managers themselves select as possible candidates.

If you wish to see how the process works, read this blog post and watch the embedded video:

Friday, October 7, 2011

Climate-Smart Agriculture – Yes, we can! (21)

Post by Jeff Brez (IFAD)
Photos by Gauri Salokhe (FAO)

Yesterday we had an intense and lively discussion on “What is climate smart agriculture” using the “fish bowl” knowledge sharing method. Fish bowl means that there is a core group of speakers while the rest of the room, arranged in circles around them, listens in. The fun part is that the core group evolves as audience members join the “inner circle” one at a time, and the original speakers leave, one at a time, so that the discussion is enriched by lots of different perspectives.

Climate smart agriculture - yes we can! (21) 

Our core group consisted of Elwyn Granger-Jones (IFAD), Carlo Scaramella (WFP), Marja-Liisa Tapio-Biström (FAO) and Cristina Grandi (IFOAM). Our audience was not shy, and everyone had experience and specific knowledge to contribute. More than half of the 30 participants entered the “fish bowl” during the course of the session.

There was no consensus on exactly what climate smart agriculture is or should be. But – there are boundaries that seem to be forming. For example, most agreed that perhaps 80% of CSA is made up of what we already know how to do and are trying to do (sustainable agriculture approaches such as integrated pest management, organic and conservation agriculture). However, there is a tricky and evasive 20% of CSA that is new, linked to emerging challenges that climate change brings about, and riddled with uncertainty.

Climate smart agriculture - yes we can! (21) 

There was also consensus that the concept is strongly influencing the planning and thinking of the ARD development community, and that it presents an opportunity to catalyze the move towards an integrated, cross-sectoral approach to agriculture and food security linking it with other challenges to sustainable development and poverty reduction. Yes, mindsets are being changed already, but what is missing is a global vision for agriculture, including the role of smallholders, that climate smart practices would fit into. We need this!

Speakers also agreed that in order to make the transition to climate-smart agriculture happen, more needs to be done: to better assess the vulnerability of farmers, including smallholder farmers; to create policy environments that incentivize and reward climate smart practices; to connect smallholder farmers to seasonal climate predictions and trends through sms and other ICT solutions for short and long term planning; to support education and extensions services; to facilitate access to new technologies like drought resistant seeds; and, to mainstream CSA into agricultural and rural development policies, because in spite of new climate funds, that is where the bulk of the money will remain.

Climate smart agriculture - yes we can! (21) 

Perhaps the strongest point of consensus was that farmers are natural adapters. Climate change is happening too fast and creating too much unpredictability for them, though. So there is no time to waste in helping the poorest to adapt. In addition – let’s not forget that the majority of the best examples of adaptive systems are traditional practices that have been with us for centuries. Case in point is the oases of the Maghreb. In these systems, water is used efficiently and livestock needs are integrated into cropping systems, for example. Let’s not waste time or money to reinvent the wheel.

The Community Listeners’ Clubs in Niger and the Democratic Republic of Congo (16)

Post by Christiane Monsieur (FAO) 
Photos by Maartje Houbrechts (FAO)

Sorry for that: you missed a very interesting talk show this morning!

The chat show or talk show methodology was really appropriate for providing the audience with different angles on the issue that was being discussed and for sharing information and experiences in a non-conventional but attractive way. I must admit that we had great speakers today and this surely contributed to the success of the presentation: Eliane Najros, Coordinator of the FAO-Dimitra Project and Projet Manager in the Gender, Equity and Rural Employment Division (FAO); Ali Abdoulaye, Dimitra’s partner in the Sahel and Coordinator of the ONG-VIE Kande Nibayra and Yannick De Mol from the Dimitra Project in Dakar, Senegal.

Les Clubs d'écoute communautaires en République démocratique du Congo et au Niger (16) 

Then, it does not happen every day to be able to share ideas with people who strongly believe in what they do and who understands the importance of using real-life examples to illustrate the results and impact of development activities. No theory here, only practice. In such a way, the participants in the session had the opportunity to learn about how the Community Listeners’ Clubs work in two African countries: the Democratic Republic of Congo, where some 8500 people (50% of women) in South-Kivu and Katanga have become members of these clubs and in Niger where there are currently over 8000 members (75% are women).

The clubs are true citizens’ groups (of men, of women or mixed) whose members share their concerns and needs and who discuss these within their own club and with other clubs, get access to information and, more importantly, take constructive action together. In this process, community radio is used as an information medium and a communication relay that facilitates setting up flows of information and communication. To listen to the radio programmes and to their own and others’ interventions, the clubs use solar-powered and wind-up radio sets, sometimes together with the solar mobile phones. Ali Abdoulaye showed the participants one of these incredible radio sets. Blue, resistant, sixty turns of the handle and you have one hour of radio listening!

Les Clubs d'écoute communautaires en République démocratique du Congo et au Niger (16) 

The speakers explained how the Community Listeners’ Clubs have proved to be an effective way for isolated rural communities, women in particular, to become involved in their own development, gain self-confidence, change their pratices. In this empowering process of social mobisation, food security is one of the main objectives.

Les Clubs d'écoute communautaires en République démocratique du Congo et au Niger (16) 

To learn more about the Listeners’ Clubs: (in English) and (in French)

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Approaches for strengthening stakeholders abilities (23)

Post by Andrea Rudiger (FAO) and Chiara Ferri (FAO)
Photos by Michela Baratelli (FAO) and Chiarra Ferri (FAO)

The FAO Research and Extension Branch has jointly presented three of its initiatives at the third day of the Global Share Fair under the title “Approaches for strengthening stakeholders’ abilities to generate, adapt and share experiences”.

Approaches for strengthening stakeholders abilities (23)

1. Food Security through Commercialization of Agriculture (FSCA/PISA)

“What I hear, I forget. What I see I remember. What I do, I know.”

Participants from seven Western African countries, in which Food Security through Commercialization of Agriculture (FSCA/PISA) Projects are being implemented, met in Dakar in 2010. In a workshop participants learned ten new communication tools, such as SWOT analysis, open space, mind mapping, chat show and mapping of communication flows. They used them actively for knowledge exchange and learning from local solutions to challenges common to all FSCA/PISA initiatives. Even though the participants did not all share a common language, the interpretation as well as focussing on visual methods was very helpful in establishing exchange that continues beyond the workshop.

2. Applied Technologies and Practices for Small Agricultural Producers (TECA)

Approaches for strengthening stakeholders abilities (23)  
Using the example of a sweet potato disease outbreak in Eastern Uganda, the aims and functions FAO’s online platform for applied technologies and practices (TECA) were illustrated. Partners of TECA such as NARO (National Agricultural Research Organisation in Uganda), the International Potato Center (CIP) and DIFID have shared sweet potato technologies on TECAs online knowledge base. The manager of a local NGO, who has direct contact with local farmers, used TECA’s Exchange Group to alert other stakeholders to the problem and was put in touch with a CIP researcher. TECA enabled this NGO to respond more effectively to the problem on the ground.

3. Rural and Agricultural Development and Communication Network in Egypt (RADCON)

Approaches for strengthening stakeholders abilities (23) 

RADCON addresses the communication gap between research centres, extension services, the ministry of agriculture, the private sector and above all small farming communities with a special focus on women and youth. The network facilitates the sharing of knowledge among all stakeholders. At the core of the network are the RADCON centres, to which individual farmers can go to ask specific questions concerning their farming practices. These centres are linked to five so called expert systems (on rice, tomatoes, wheat, grapes and beans), to which village facilitators send the inquiries and receive feedback from specialists. Similar projects are being implemented for example in Bhutan, Uganda and Armenia as part of the Virtual Extension and Research Communication Network (VERCON).

All of these initiatives face challenges, which were discussed in some detail in the session.

To make these communication tools and systems work, building capacities for technology and empowering local actors is often necessary. In some cases this means to train basic computer skills (as in the case of VERCON Bhutan). In other cases a face-to-face interaction of an online community might be necessary, thus realising the human component of technology adoption.

Another challenge is to build sustainable solutions, which will endure when the external resources are no longer available. All three initiatives require commitment of human and financial resources by the partners, particularly governments. In the case of TECA the team at FAO can support partners (like research institutes or development agencies) by providing the software for a decentralised platform, but they will have to commit resources to its adaptation to their needs and its maintenance.

The Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition (The FSN Forum) (17)

Post by Dalia Mattioni (FAO)
The Food Security and Nutrition Forum (17)
As they say, small is beautiful.

And indeed this meeting was small: 5 participants with quite a diverse background- IFAD, an international Swiss NGO, Bioversity – all of whom passionately participated to the debate on how to ensure the sustainability of the FSN Forum. Many ideas were given to the FSN Forum Team on the topic ranging from carrying out user (satisfaction) surveys to ensure that user needs are constantly catered for, to setting up incentive systems based on assigning “loyalty” points to users depending on the frequency (and quality) of their interventions.

But while the group may have been small, their range of comments on another topic certainly wasn’t. Decentralisation was the other hot topic for the FSN Forum team, and here participants shared their suggestions on how to set up Regional FSN Forums, without fragmenting the Global Forum. One of these was placing links to the Regional Forums on the main FSN website so that users would need to go through the Global website to access the Regional sites.

The seminar lasted 1 hour, but the debate went on (or is it still going on??) beyond the welcoming Bangladesh Room, into the busy cafeteria

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Build competitive business relationships between smallholder supplier groups and agribusinesses (7)

Post by Siobhan Kelly (FAO) and Denise Senmartin
Photos by Denise Senmartin.

The World Cafe session shared experiences from three cases pilot tested under FAO’s business model approach. Discussions at the coffee tables focussed on challenges that each of the pilot cases have been confronted with during implementation and as a result some strategic activities and ideas have been proposed that can be adopted during the last months of the projects. Some ideas proposed have been:

ShareFair2011 #7 

Should FAO encourage the Federation to get a new loan to be able to increase volume?

  • An upcoming feasibility study needs to focus on understanding if significant improvement in quality can make the business model profitable.

To promote and strengthen the competitiveness of the industrial sector, should FAO and other projects work with commercial farmers in order to satisfy the procurement needs of the industrial buyers?
  • Engagement with commercial farmers should be accompanied by strengthen of district farmer associations in agribusiness skills and contract management to ensure equitable bargaining power.

How can trust and collaboration be stimulated within a supply chain to improve overall competitiveness and introduce win-win solutions for all chain players?
  • Sharing technology and know-how which stimulates linkages vertically and horizontally in the chain.
  • Implementing rigorous quality control to improve buyers trust in the chain.
ShareFair2011 #7 

The World Café methodology allowed for a dynamic exchange for every participant to express their ideas. The word from some of the them?

“I enjoyed the approach of the World Café. Working for a NGO, I am interested in learning and capturing FAO´s experience as they can reach the policy levels. There is still work to do and the discussion, for example in the Cassava project, can help.” And then, at the stairs “It was my first session like this, I´m an intern at IFAD, so had not much ideas to provide yet but learnt a lot!”

Thanks for the meaningful, inspiring and energetic conversations, even though we forgot the candy!

Knowledge sharing to develop effective national forest policy through participatory processes (64)

Post by Nadejda Loumbeva (FAO)

Fred Kafeero, Forestry Officer, Participatory Forestry at FAO and Marguerite France-Lanord, Forestry Officer, National Forest Programme Facility hosted by FAO, discussed the role of knowledge management and knowledge sharing in developing and implementing national forest policy. The format of the session was a chat show followed by questions from the audience.

In particular, Marguerite explained that since 2002 the National Forest Programme Facility (the Facility) has worked with more than 80 countries throughout the world to build capacity for and support the participation of all stakeholder groups in forestry policy development and implementation. In this, the Facility has worked in close partnership with the FAO Forest Economics, Policy and Product Division (FOE). In particular, small grants have been delivered mainly to civil society in the Facility member countries to conduct pilot studies, develop information systems, and raise awareness about community forestry. Such initiatives have resulted in participatory policy development and implementation processes put into place.

To build on this, Fred explained that FOE has provided public sector officials and other stakeholders working in participatory forestry management with national and regional trainings in participatory approaches and conflict resolution methodologies. Examples of methodologies and tools taught at these trainings include: stakeholder analysis, priority analysis, opportunities and threats (SWOT) analysis, fish bowl debates. The purpose of these trainings has been to empower public sector officials and other stakeholders with practical skills in developing forestry policies. Each training has stressed the importance of involving all key stakeholder groups, including grassroots communities, and in this way enabling all-inclusive and sustainable forest management.

A question/comment came up during the discussion on the partnership between the Facility and FOE. How did it work?
Marguerite and Fred explained there has been close and committed collaboration between the two, particularly with respect to providing participatory approaches and methodology trainings. For example, often a grant provided by the Facility to one of its member countries would be used in part by the FOE in order to organize and deliver such trainings. In addition, the FOE would often act as a coach to Facility member countries, helping them to absorb and enact the philosophy of participatory forestry management. This way countries are more able to effectively tap into the assistance being provided by the Facility and build capacity for the long term.

In addition, the Facility and FOE conceptualize technical support areas together, for example:
  • in supporting the development of National Forest financing strategies; 
  • in developing guidelines with countries, i.e. guidelines on integration of climate change measures into national forest programmes; 
  • in supporting community based forest enterprises.
What a great example of teamwork and collaboration in action!

Monday, October 3, 2011

5 years sharing coffee and knowledge: the Bluebar experience (26)

Post by Tina Farmer (FAO), Pictures by Luca Servo (FAO)

1. Background of Bluebar
  • Began 5 years ago by Luca and Tina as part of an online facilitation course 
  • The result of realizing that ‘essential’ information regarding FAO activities of all sorts was sought after but not easily found; in fact, a lot of valuable information is caught through informal chatting over coffee – hence, the birth of the Bluebar (an actual FAO coffee bar) 
  • Grew from a small group – basically a loose invitation to participants of that online facilitation course – to over 100 members today 
  • Formed as an informal network of communicators with no structure or hierarchy 
  • Online presence through Dgroups list with occasional face-to-face coffees at the FAO Bluebar 
  • Focuses on practical information and issues 
The Bluebar: a list of communicators
2. Success of Bluebar
  • Brings like-minded people together 
  • Informal, no hierarchy 
  • Membership is voluntary 
  • Organic, ‘under the radar’ 
  • Good place to meet others across the organization (and in other Rome-based agencies) 
  • Great place for recommendations, advice, tips, as a sounding board 
  • Fosters level of trust among members 
  • A ‘comfort zone’ 
  • Bridges an institutional information gap 
  • Not for self-promoters 
  • Co-shared facilitation helps orient meetings and contact 
  • Mutually supportive membership 

3. Discussion on the Bluebar and future considerations
  • Ever thought of measuring the potential ripple effect, to see what is the ‘impact’? 
    • Measuring impact of the Bluebar could be an interesting exercise, but isn’t essential 
  • Ever thought of advertising? 
    • Advertising could kill the nature of the Bluebar – it’s strength is that it is organic with a self-selecting and motivated membership 
  •  Ever thought of distributing short summaries of the face-to-face Bluebar gatherings? 
    • Summaries would be a good idea for those unable to attend the coffee meetings 
  • Could the ‘model’ work in a smaller environment? 
    • The Bluebar could undoubtedly be replicated in another environment if all the similar ingredients are present, especially the need for it and good will to have it 
  • Could FAO field staff participate? If so, how? 
    • All interested people can participate, including FAO field staff – members can invite others 

4. Wrap-up
  • The Bluebar is its own niche and, for the time being, responds to certain needs 
  • Tina/Luca will initiate ‘Bluebar Notes’ to summarize face-to-face meetings 
  • Nora will keep us posted if she starts a similar group at Bioversity 

Nexus between rural employment and food security (65)

Post and photos by Cristina Sette (CGIAR) 

FAO is working on an integrated country approach for rural employment and decent work in Malawi and Tanzania aiming to support national capacities in mainstreaming rural employment and decent work; child labour prevention; and youth employment creation. The three-year programme is funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) and supports the Millennium Development Goal 1 on ‘Eradicate Extreme Poverty and Hunger’, under the new target (1B) to achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all, including women and young people.

Rural employment and food security (65)Peter Wobst, from FAO, presented the main aspects of the approach, its background, the rationale and its activities, such as child labour prevention in agriculture and junior farmer field and life schools (JFFLS). Peter shared with us the lessons he and his team have learned since the programme started:
  • Involvement of stakeholders such as national and local government, UN agencies, those active in the area (NGOs), and local communities is crucial for understanding all the issues involved in rural employment. 
  • Using an integrated approach that better reflect issues on child labour and linking it with other areas of food security, collecting ideas beyond employment. 
  • Paying attention to context and population groups to have tailored approaches (the reality of employment in fishing communities is different from crop farmers) 
  • Influencing the formulation of policy and strategies at national and UN level. 
  • Working through capacity development but need next steps 
Peter’s team faces several challenges and wanted to discuss with participants of the session three main challenges: institutionalization of such an approach, ways for sustainability and linkages with existing investments in agriculture.

Rural employment and food security (65)

One participant suggested to avoid the word institutionalization as it can be associated with bureaucracy. And to look at this intervention as a complex systems with multiple dimensions. On the sustainability, working with policy makers on the values of the project, on creation of employment and reducing poverty, can be a way to move towards sustainability, where National governments take the responsibility for carrying on the programme in a near future. Just having policies is not enough, but helping governments to see the importance of such policies and the benefits of applying such policies can bring is the way forward.

Child labour is a sensitive issue but when discussing with national partners, the team linked it with poverty reduction and employment generation.

More information can be found at

Role of Social Media in Development (206)

Post and photos by Lisa Cespedes (FAO)
During this session, Musa Masilela, Acting Water Manager at SWADE (Swaziland Water and Agricultural Development Enterprise) shared some lessons learned from a Share-Fair event of the Lower Usuthu Smallholder Irrigation Project (LUSIP), "Linking Farmers with service providers and markets – a social media analysis for rural development in Africa, Swaziland".
Musa shared the following key lessons from the LUSIP event:
  • Use of social media is a growing opportunity among their project's participants, inspired by the prevalence of mobile phones. 
  • Social media shifts the paradigm from being event oriented to continuous sharing of information e.g. people shared more information post the event than during the event.
  • Limitations include rural adults’ partial ignorance and fear of the social media as It can potentially leak confidential information to the public.

Soon after, the lively session and active participants started to brainstorm and share their experiences on the question posed by Musa:
What social media tools have you used for development projects? How? 

Among the many experiences shared, some of the key points summarized by the participants included:

  • Lack of resources (time and people) is a problem in maintaining social media accounts for organizations
  • Some organizations are 'conservative'  and people don't have the freedom to use social media. For example, blogs need to pass several layers to be approved.
  • In reference to the problem of control: organizations need to define a social media policy/guidelines that works while leaving enough space for inspiration 
  • Not only one person should be the 'custodian' of your organization's social media channels.
  • Organizations assume that social media is all about the "communication people", it is not! 
  • There isn't a complete understanding of the POTENTIAL of #social media in organizations
  • Social media offers access to instant feedback from members and people in different regions. "There are 2 million Facebook users in Kenya. If we have a question that we cannot answer, we ask the audience and we get replies!" 
  • We need to choose the tools that work for our own organizations, otherwise, we lose sense of direction
  • Social Media tools change very quickly - but still people use these tools for social purpose, not quite yet for work
  • It is necessary to find a balance between individual exploration and corporate requirements.
  • A diverse group of people using social media tools provides various points of view, showing the totality of your organization
Towards the end of the session, the participants were taking bets! 
Some food for thought included: 
Will Facebook survive the next 5 years?
Will Google+ survive in 18 months? There was a general consensus that it will not, what do you think?!! Let's continue the discussion here!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Mobile agri-business in Congo (133) - matchmaking challenges and promises

On Tuesday 27 September, Narcisse Mbunzama Lokwa
exposed his mobile agro-business enterprise. Mobile phones – and particularly short messenging services (SMS) - offer opportunities for farmers to develop their capacities, share information about their products and connect with markets in real time. This helps them increase their knowledge about the possibilities to sell their products, increase their productivity and their revenues. The overall objective is to develop food security and better health of the poor in rural Congo and other areas.

The 8 participants to the session questioned the business model of Narcisse, who pays for the service (the connecting service is free except for farmers that wish to sell their products in that way), the connectivity of farmers (who do have access to mobile phones in the areas where Narcisse is working) and the potential to scale it up to other, perhaps more deprived, areas (which seems to be a challenge at this stage). One of the participants suggested introducing positive competition among farmers by increasing the transparency of their offers, to stimulate better productivity and a more effective matchmaking.

The session was short but showed there is potential to expand this kind of mechanisms and to connect with similar initiatives in the region (Congo-Brazza, Cameroon etc.).