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A perspective on the working of multistakeholder processes

While multi stakeholder processes is desirable for promotion of agro ecology on a wider scale, in practice, it is not as simple as it is thought to be. AME Foundation’s experience in fostering such processes shows that the success depends on several factors. In fact, adhering to certain basic principles is necessary to keep the process going.

Groundnut consultative workshop
Groundnut consultative workshop

Today, agro ecological approaches are increasingly being recognised as a most promising solution to address rural food and nutritional security, improving farm productivity and incomes while caring for  environmental well-being. It is also being recognised that collective action is necessary for initiating and sustaining change processes as the dominant paradigm is still caught up in unsustainable farming practices which are a threat to farmer livelihoods as well as environment.

There are lot of efforts by the development practitioners to articulate and promote several institutional arrangements/models of working together – some highly pragmatic, some ideal, some process heavy, invariably caught in the noose of short duration project timeframes.  For them to succeed, intent alone is not sufficient. Firstly, it should be rooted in the  specific local context, needs and opportunities. Secondly, there should be necessary patience to allow them to evolve organically, rather than squeeze them through templates. Lastly, as one expert put it, quite radically, these platforms need not exist beyond their period of purpose too.

Presented below are some of the learning outcomes from two specific cases of multistakeholder processes, which AME facilitated. One deals with Groundnut Working group and the other with Urban and Peri urban agriculture initiatives – both involving diverse stakeholders. The results and outcomes are based on the organisational memory with added reflections/perspectives by the author.

Box 1

Born in response to negative effects of high input agriculture, AME started as an innovative training programme in ecological agriculture in the year 1982 in the Netherlands. After relocating to India, established unique identity by promoting ecological agriculture and farmer centric participatory learning processes.  During 1996-2001, operated as a Indo-Dutch bilateral project, implemented by ETC India. Later, in the year 2002, AME project became AME Foundation. All along, AME has focussed on LEISA approaches, participatory learning processes in the rain fed areas where small holders are the majority.

 

Groundnut Working Group

During the project phase, in 1996-97, AME began fostering initiatives for purposeful collaborative action by diverse stakeholders in the development process.  This was done primarily to widen the basket of options available for a dry land farmer  to address problems being faced  in a specific crop based farming system. Beginning with PRAs to understand the farmer situations in each specific location, specific crop based Participatory Technology Development (PTD) processes were facilitated to enable farmers identify major problems in the crop; conduct farmer led trials by including options what they know and those made available by specialists; assess results, adopt suitable alternatives; also, identify new problems emerging, which need to be addressed, in the next seasonal cycle.  This process was linked to the multistakeholder process which brought together several diverse groups to focus on these ground realities.

Here begins the first departure from usual models. The multistakeholder processes for addressing the Groundnut  productivity challenges didn’t start  with a ‘blue print’ and a fixed ‘roadmap’.  The immediate problem of the farmer, set the agenda. Few enthusiastic individuals working on the problem in diverse backgrounds were contacted. Gradually, they started interacting as a group, informally first and later formally during annual meets. The options were integrated into PTD trials conducted by farmers working with AME and its NGO partners.  As these options had to be eco-friendly, affordable and locally suitable, alternatives were limited and often not easily forthcoming. At the end of the season, AME along with its NGO partners, facilitated large farmer meets where farmers assessment of results across three states was consolidated. These findings were fed into the annual meets. During annual meets, the practitioners and academics put their minds together, shared their learnings, and suggested various options for trials. Also, major problems emerging from the farmer meets were flagged as potential agenda points for further research and action. The review and planning processes of the annual meet of the stakeholders focused on these field realities.

While farmers assessed the options for their utility, solutions emerging from field were taken up for further formal research studies.

Gradually, the group grew organically, in size and in diversity, to evolve as a platform with an identifiable commonality of purpose. From individuals, it grew into a platform where institutions they belong to also wanted to get formally involved. The group started gaining recognition at various levels. National and International research systems like Australian Council of Agricultural Research, NRCG, ICRISAT, CRIDA, State Agricultural Universities, Central IPM centres, MANAGE, to name a few, actively participated. Some of them sponsored and co-organised the annual meets.  Gradually, financial institutions like NABARD and input suppliers got involved for extending support to farmers. Most importantly, each annual meet addressed a specific major problem being faced in groundnut based farming system and inviting those who can offer a solution to that. Thus, the purpose was overriding power and status; action oriented initiatives prevailing rather than academic discourses.

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Another significant aspect of the process, though challenging was, creating a mutual respect between formal and informal knowledge systems, each with their inherent strengths. Generally, during the annual meets, the previous season’s results were reviewed vis a vis options tried out. While farmers assessed the options for their utility, solutions emerging from field were taken up for further formal research studies. Thus, it was a two way learning …and in milder terms – a two way validation process! This not only helped in enhanced mutual respect between diverse stakeholders but also enhancing mutual accountabilities too.

New institutional collaborations emerged based on recognition of farmer’s abilities. For instance, in the year 1999, based on groundnut seed route study presented by AME, reputed universities and research institutes who are part of the platform, offered to supply nucleus seeds to farmers for breeder seed production (BSP). Thus the platform subtly influenced institutional policies.

Sheer presence in these workshops resulted in higher self-esteem for the farmers as experimenters and the ultimate users of alternatives. While in initial years, the presentations were done by NGOs (AME and its partner NGOs), based on summarised results from farmer meets, in later years, farmer representatives started participating in the annual meetings of the Groundnut Working Groups (GWG). Recognition and visibility of farmers increased. Infact, one of the annual National Groundnut Workshops was inaugurated by a woman farmer.

The Groundnut working group as a platform was operational from 1996-2005. AME as one of the primary resource agencies promoting LEISA, agro ecological approaches and participatory facilitative multi stakeholder processes, showed possibilities of working together through this Groundnut Working Group.

Urban Agriculture (UA) Platform

AME Foundation facilitated yet another multistakeholder process in a relatively new area of intervention – Urban Agriculture.

The Project perspective developed by RUAF, The Netherlands, was based on the vision that policy centric initiatives could be initiated in urban areas like Bangalore and Hyderabad. This was inspired by similar initiatives in countries like Sri Lanka, Philippines etc. AME Foundation was requested by IWMI, the implementing agency, to be a consultant to anchor the process in Bangalore. While the relevance of urban agriculture was a unique approach ahead of its times, it was to be seen how it could be taken up in a growing city like Bangalore. Bangalore had the uniqueness of being a traditional green city, but also one the fastest growing cities with rapid urban expansion.

The project strategy was to build capacities of diverse stakeholders on how to implement a stakeholder concerted action for creating an enabling policy environment for urban agriculture in Bangalore. It was soon realised that the process does not work that way, at least in Bangalore. The top busy policy makers were not prepared to be subjected to a long step by step process learning curriculum. Also, several high level bodies were involved in the redrawing green belt area to attract investments as a IT and service sector hub. While they were keen to appreciate the purpose of the programme, to an extent, they had no time to be involved in the ‘learning process’ designed for them.

A meeting of stakeholders in promoting periurban-agriculture
A meeting of stakeholders in promoting periurban-agriculture

We had to start afresh to redefine the scope of the project in a fast growing city like Bangalore, with planners and to a large extent citizens interest in green spaces. Also, we were conscious that for sustainable cities, the lifeline is also strengthening peri-urban agriculture areas, traditionally supporting the food supplies to the growing city. During the inception meeting to launch the programme, after initial unclarities, the discussions gradually got focussed. The project scope was redefined to include urban horticulture initiatives and peri urban agriculture in a specific area was vetted in the inception meeting.

Separate ‘enabling teams’ of multiple stakeholders was forged for urban and peri urban areas separately. The Bangalore enabling team consisted of reputed NGOs (5), Depts. of Government (3), renowned Individuals (2), Knowledge specialists (2) Resident Associations (3). The peri urban team consisted of all departments, Town administration, Farmer Groups, NGOs. The enabling teams were very clear that such initiatives need to be people centred and people driven, even to gain interest of the policy makers.

Box 2: Functioning of Multi-stakeholder processes/platforms

 

Basic principles

·  Willingness to work together – Long term interests rather than short term conveniences

·  Mutual Cooperation based on agreed common interests and actions – Past collaborative behaviors do play a part

·  Mutual Respect built on known competencies – appreciation of each other’s competencies

·  Shared, transparent, functional and facilitative leadership

Working principles

·  Minimizing ideological posturing and identifying pragmatic areas for cooperation

·  Defining long term and short term goals – doable and achievable

·  Identifying joint activities and tasks – both short term and long term

·  Creating a comfortable ‘pace’ as well as ‘space’ for joint working

·  Vertical as well as horizontal accountabilities  – accountability to partners too

·  Working together mutually acceptable review mechanisms through consensus

·  More meetings in the beginning for common understanding – Compulsory minutes of the action points/ agreements/ deadlines/ agreed roles

·  Exploring acceptable and transparent financial arrangements

Advisory panel

·  Need for personalities with lot of humility as well as experience

·  Persons with great reputation of service and wisdom, ability to influence rather than power and present position.

·  They should not be involved in the micromanagement but help in widening vision.

Overall,  platforms need to grow organically, strive for creating positive energies and synergies, recognize and celebrate collective and individual achievements; while continuously learn to deal with challenges.

An exploratory study was conducted by the enabling team to examine both the urban and peri urban contexts and opportunities. The enabling team took it as the first challenge to conduct a study which could serve also as a spring board for some action later. Roles were assigned among the stakeholders to lead the study and to pursue different parts of the study, within accepted timelines. It had to be a patient, disciplined process, for the diverse stakeholders to come to consensus within the project framework.

One of the key factors for success was frequent meetings (sixty in one and half years) with non-compromising approach with regard to clarity of purpose, specific agendas and peer reviewing on progress made, and constant enthusiasm to make a difference through synergies. Some of the members played an advisory role for the enabling team. Sometimes, they played the role of ‘devil’s advocate’ role within the discussions.

Similar multistakeholder processes were followed in the peri-urban area in Magadi where line departments actively took part. Here too, the momentum was built systematically with several rounds of focused discussions with farming communities, officials and various departments and public meetings enabled formation of an enabling team for further field action. Repeatedly, how an international program chose this area for its cooperative and progressive attitudes was highlighted. With the enthusiasm created, with lesser intellectual conflicts, it was easier to involve the line departments for joint action. AMEF’s credibility carried a huge advantage.

AMEF has been continuing the urban initiatives through direct training to the citizens on urban home gardens and the peri-urban farmers further got involved in producing eco-friendly farm produce while conserving local biodiversity.

Some learnings

The two stakeholder platforms has provided rich experience for AME in multistakeholder processes. While some of the major learnings from the two multistakeholder processes are presented below, it can be safely concluded that the successful functioning of the groups to a large extent can be attributed to their acceptance to certain basic and operational principles of functioning. (see Box 2).

Focussed Agenda

The most crucial component in such processes is the agenda setting, as diverse stakeholders participating in the processes have their own mandates. Agenda needs to be specific and farmer need centred. For instance, in the GWG, the agenda was centered around farmer problems and the platform explored options for ecofriendly pest and disease management of white grub and leaf miner, improved agronomic practices and seed varieties, Aflatoxin assessment studies and identification of research study topics for formal academic and research institutions.

Role clarity

It is important that every stakeholder is clear about his role and his contribution towards the process. In GWG, while research institutions tried to find solutions to farmers problems, farmers tried various options on their fields for testing their suitability. In the UA platform, there was clear role clarity right from conducting the exploratory studies.

Action oriented activities

Diverse stakeholders continue to work together only when they see some role for themselves in taking action. For example, in UA platform, the enabling teams got restless too for action. Thus, the enabling teams went beyond the project expectations of doing studies to initiate some tangible action. As a result, two pilot projects were conceived – one on strengthening peri urban agriculture initiatives and another, on building the capacities of citizens of residential areas on urban home gardening. In case of GWG, a possibility of knowledge being put to use as well as mechanisms for feedback on its utility from the field, made the deliberations pragmatic and action oriented.  For example, results of seed trials.

Appropriate time frames

Bringing diverse stakeholders with different mandates and interests to achieve a common goal is a highly time consuming process. Quick results cannot be expected in a short span when transformation sought is of a total change in mindset, practice and policy. Also, different contextual realities need to be factored in while estimating duration of intervention.  GWG with a long term support served its purpose. On the other hand, in the case of UA platform, the project life cycle got over, by the time momentum was built.

Mutual Respect

Stakeholders from different backgrounds come with different sets of knowledge systems. In both the cases, with a better understanding about each other, mutual respect for various knowledge systems represented by farmers, NGOs, academics and researchers, increased. Though patient listening to each other was initially difficult, the personal conviction and commitment of the individuals helped and enriched the learning process.

Acknowledgements: The author gratefully acknowledges the contributions made by Mr H. Lanting in conceptualizing Groundnut Working Group, Shri C.K. Subramanian in organizing Annual Groundnut Workshops. Similarly, the role and cooperation of RUAF team and project leadership of Dr. Robert Simmons, IWMI is deeply acknowledged.

Reference

KVS Prasad and B Vijayalakshmi, “Practices, Platforms and Policies”, December 2005, LEISA India, Vol 7, No.4, p. 26-27

 

K V S Prasad

Executive Director

AME Foundation, Bangalore-560085

Email: leisaindia@yahoo.co.in; amefbang@yahoo.co.in