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«Edited by Helene Bie Lilleør and Ulrik Lund-Sørensen Practical Action Publishing Ltd The Schumacher Centre, Bourton on Dunsmore, Rugby, ...»

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The main role of the extension agents in the T&V model is to teach and train master farmers. It is assumed that these master farmers will adopt the blanket recommendations and extension messages, and that other farmers in the communities will copy these farming practices from the master farmers. The impact of the T&V approach in Africa has been disappointing (Anderson et al., 2006; Gautam, 2000), especially in low-potential, highly diverse areas inhabited by resource-poor farmers. The T&V approach has been found to work best in high-potential areas dominated by a few key crops for which uniform recommendations can be developed.

The bottom-up approach There is no exact definition of an FFS methodology, but, in contrast to the T&V approach, all FFS approaches apply a bottom-up method. The FFS approach evolved in response to the inadequacy of the T&V approach and has spread to many countries across Africa.

It is a group-based participatory method of learning and of technology development and dissemination, and is founded on adult learning principles. In contrast to the T&V demonstration plots, which are managed by the extension staff, the FFS site is managed directly by the group of farmers themselves, guided by an external facilitator. FFS groups conduct their own experiments, diagnose problems, and come up with solutions. The Presentation oF riPat facilitator is often an extension worker who has been trained in the FFS approach.

However, ‘farmer’ facilitators, who have often been members of FFS groups themselves, may also guide the groups. In general there is no lecturing involved. The farmers make all the decisions, but on the basis of information and guidance from the facilitator.

Many of the technologies transmitted via the FFS come from the members themselves sharing information and developing new, locally appropriate solutions to local problems by building on their learning. There are a number of publications describing the FFS approach in detail, including Gallagher et al., 2006, and Okoth et al., 2010.

The RIPAT approach – a combination The fundamentals of the FFS concept are applied in the RIPAT project, albeit in a modified form. The RIPAT approach combines top-down and bottom-up models. The following are some of the key differences between the RIPAT approach and the more standard FFS approaches.

First, in RIPAT, the subject of learning is largely predefined and is not decided exclusively by the individual groups. The starting point for each of the 16 groups (eight villages) in a RIPAT project is the basket of options, i.e. the improved technologies available to the groups. This basket of options is designed during a participatory rural appraisals process and is based on the combined input from farmers (bottom up) and technical experts (top down).

Second, RIPAT includes teaching. The basket of options mostly comprises new technologies that are unknown to the farmers. In order to help the farmers fully understand the concepts and underlying principles, a combination is used of teaching (top down) and hands-on practical and adult reflective learning. This process is designed to ensure that the new technologies are modified using local knowledge and are adapted to local conditions (bottom up). The RIPAT facilitator guides the farmers in the demonstrations and trials, but the farmers do the practical work themselves. Thus, in RIPAT, the facilitator takes a more active role in the technology transfer than in the FFS approach.

Third, the RIPAT projects run over three or four seasons or cycles, and are thus considerably longer than a typical FFS project. Because of the relatively large scale of the package in the basket of options, covering several different technologies, one season or cycle is not sufficient to ensure that farmers gain adequate capacity to master the various technologies.

2.3 Core components of RIPAT Initialization It is crucial to have a broad understanding of the livelihood situation in the targeted communities prior to initiating a RIPAT project. The problems of poverty and food insecurity faced by communities, as well as the causes and effects of those problems, must be analysed in collaboration with the farmers before appropriate solutions can be suggested. Since RIPAT focuses on agriculture, it is vital to have a thorough understanding of current farming practices and of the local soil, water, and climate conditions in order to identify an appropriate basket of technology options that can improve the food security situation and alleviate poverty among the members of the target group.

During the project planning process, RECODA conducts participatory rural appraisals 12 Farmers’ ChoiCe by visiting villages and holding focus group discussions with farmers and interviewing village leaders, agricultural extension officers, and other key informants. On the basis of the information gathered through this process, a suitable basket of options – technologies and practices appropriate for the village and that have the potential to improve local agriculture – is identified. Before any activities are commenced, the project concept is presented to the relevant government authorities and to the communities through a sensitization and mobilization process.

Sensitization and mobilization of communities The first step in this process is to establish positive cooperation with the relevant government institutions, making sure that they are fully informed and that the project has their blessing. Active support by the relevant government officials at regional, district, and ward levels is important for ensuring that the project is well received by community leaders and village residents and that help is provided by the authorities to spread ideas beyond the original groups. The government authorities help by recommending which villages in the area should be targeted by a project on food security and poverty reduction. Once the government authorities have given the green light, all the residents in the targeted community are called by the village leaders to participate in a village meeting. At that meeting, the poverty and food security situation in the village is further analysed in a participatory way. This is followed by a discussion of how the RIPAT project could help to rectify the situation through the participants’ own efforts, despite the past failures of other projects. Believing in a better future is a prerequisite for getting development rolling; it is necessary that farmers can visualize a successful outcome. The project elements and activities are clearly explained, including the new farming technologies in the basket of options that the project plans to demonstrate, and the roles and responsibilities of the various stakeholders are clarified. Once everything is clear, the selection of participants and their division into groups is organized by the

village leaders using these guidelines:

• Participation must be voluntary, and participants must be committed to the project.

• Participants should not be rich in terms of the wealth ranking of the village.

• Participants must be engaged in farming and have 1–5 acres of their own farmland available for putting the new methods into effect.

• Participants must be willing and able to share the new ideas with others, and to learn from others. This means that participants should be of good standing in the community.

• There should be equal numbers of men and women in the groups, or more women than men.

• Only one person per household, who must be over 18 years of age, may participate.

• Group members must come from the village administrative area, and ideally should know one another in advance.

It is crucial that this group formation process is led by the village leaders, in order to ensure local ownership of the project. Once the groups have been established, the RECODA facilitator meets them on a regular basis (weekly in the beginning, later fortnightly, and then as necessary). Before the agricultural activities begin, the group Presentation oF riPat is taught about group dynamics, cohesion, and democracy. Two of the first tasks of the group are to choose a chairperson, secretary, and treasurer, and to write a group constitution and a set of rules. The constitution and rules are open to amendments and additions throughout the project through normal democratic processes. Items covered by the constitution should include management of the group account, membership, and the roles and responsibilities of officials and members. Each group rents a plot for demonstration purposes and the practical training, signing a leasing contract with the landowner for a period of at least five years. When all the formalities have been addressed, the actual training on the basket of options begins.

Establishing group fields The group field for demonstrating and testing the new and improved technologies in the basket of options is a central element in the RIPAT project approach. Group fields in the targeted villages are rented for a period of at least five years (for details about the plot renting component, see Box 2.1). One use made of the rented group field is the creation of demonstration plots for comparisons between different cultivation methods. For example, various conservation agriculture techniques for maize cultivation (e.g. different tillage methods, various cover crops, intercropping, and manure application) are systematically compared in trials, using a traditional cultivation method as a benchmark.

The advantages of trying out new crops and technologies on a group field rather than

on fields owned by farmers in the group are numerous. They include the following:

Working together: Participants all get hands-on experience by working together • on the establishment of the group field. In learning and trying out something new, it is often useful to work together with other people who are in the same situation. This generates a feeling of group strength and of courage, and it is possible to divide up the work amongst the group members.

Persuasive demonstration: If farmers see a benefit, they will adopt the method, • and others will follow suit. Any new technology should therefore be presented and demonstrated with care, and this may be more easily done on the group field rather than on individual group members’ fields; if poor implementation of a new method results in failure, the message conveyed will be that the method is of no use, even if it would have been successful if implemented correctly. However, it should not be assumed that ‘one size fits all’ and that a technology that works in one place will work everywhere. Hence, the methods and technologies demonstrated should allow farmers to discover, reflect upon, and adjust the methods according to local conditions to minimize the risk of failure. Visits to individual group members’ fields are also part of the training.

Multiplication of planting materials: Both the up-scaling of production and • the spreading of new crops to group members and others in the community are made easier by producing input materials on the group field. Lack of availability of planting materials for improved crop varieties often creates a bottleneck for the spread of new crops and technologies.

Group income: Originally the RIPAT groups were not established with the • intention of creating long-term organizations. However, it transpired in practice that the majority of the groups found advantages in continuing their existence and activities after the end of the project. Apart from the strength gained through 16 Farmers’ ChoiCe Building group capacity To facilitate the build-up of capital, payments for inputs are made into the group account.

For example, if a farmer decides to engage in keeping the improved breed of poultry and buys a cockerel from the project using his or her own money, the cash is paid into the shared group account. The group’s capital is thus increased, and with it the group’s capacity to initiate various enterprise activities. The money earned on sales of crops from the group field is also paid into the group account. Groups usually also agree that members should pay a small weekly membership fee, and that members who do not turn up for group activities for an unacceptable reason must pay a fine. This money is also put into the group account. It is therefore essential that the group leaders are trained in the management of the group’s savings, and that the groups have constitutions that include good provisions regarding how to share group profits, as well as rules concerning members joining and leaving.

The RIPAT groups are trained in how to advocate for their rights and interests in a local context. Groups tend to have a more dominant say than individuals in a village.

For example, some RIPAT groups have successfully called for the enforcement of village by-laws against the uncontrolled grazing of animals, which can be a problem for farmers who want to move away from maize cultivation to perennial crops such as banana, or to long-duration cassava, pigeon peas, etc. Groups can also be in a better position to exploit economies of scale; they can sell together as a group and negotiate higher prices, or buy agro-inputs in bulk at lower prices. However, although this aspect of marketing has been presented to RIPAT groups, it is not yet being exploited fully.

The RIPAT learning process includes group-to-group learning exchange. The three leaders from each group, plus two leaders from each of the targeted villages in a RIPAT project and the government extension officers in the project area, all meet with RECODA’s

designated project manager on a quarterly basis. The purpose of the quarterly meeting is:

• to share experiences and lessons learned, and to inform each other about project progress, achievements, and challenges faced;

• to ensure good contact with and continued support and understanding for the project among village leaders and government institutions;

• to coordinate activities with the government extension officers, who sometimes make follow-up visits to the RIPAT groups.

At these meetings, important general messages for all the groups are conveyed, and any concerns are voiced, for example about violations of village by-laws. General leadership training and capacity-building activities are also carried out at these quarterly meetings. The meetings are an arena where group leaders can learn from each other and share their experiences of dealing with problems.

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