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Building knowledge on agroecology – Impact of systematic documentation

Systematic documentation plays a key role in enhancing practical knowledge sharing on agroecology influencing practice, practice based policy, evidence based debate and new development partnerships. The case of GEAG illustrates this.

Publications of GEAG
Publications of GEAG

Ecological agriculture knowledge is inspired by traditional indigenous sources of knowledge, farmer led research and innovation leading to knowledge on alternatives and location specific solutions.  Knowledge on agroecology is refined and improved through adaptation and  local innovation. Sharing such knowledge is crucial for its wider use in promoting sustainable food systems and livelihoods.

However, the weak link in the chain of knowledge production and dissemination is its systematic  documentation of context specific practices, perspectives and lessons.  Farmers who have the knowledge and the grass root organisations that promote processes towards practising agro ecology have often limited capacities to document experiences. Thus, enhanced capacities of agencies facilitating co-creation of knowledge to document actively and share their experiences in public domain, becomes crucial.

In this backdrop, AME Foundation, through its LEISA India programme, conceived an initiative to strengthen knowledge cocreation and sharing on an alternative agroecological movement through its documentation and communication programme with its consortium partners. LEISA India consortium is a group of like minded NGOs and individuals with joint vision and common belief system on what drives agroecology practice.

Driven by a strong desire to strengthen themselves, the LEISA India consortium partners got involved in a two-year Documentation and Communication programme. This was facilitated by LEISA India team in consultation with ILEIA, Netherlands, during the years 2003-2005. The focus was on enabling processes and practices to intensify and priortise documentation and communication function within the organizations.

Presented below is the experience of one of the partners in illustrating the synergy between Capacity building on Knowledge sharing, enhanced Knowledge co-creation and enhanced knowledge use.

The program

A two-year Documentation and Communication programme covering the period 2003-2005 was implemented. The activities included workshops on sourcing, documenting and communication; as well as planning and review meetings, field work and assignments. The participating organisations had to commit themselves to prioritise documentation processes, to identify persons within their organisations to take part, and finally to institutionalise the entire programme within their organisations. The partner organisations set aside staff time of 200 days, to allow for participation in the workshops as well as for further documentation and sharing activities  between the workshops. The LEISA India team in collaboration with ILEIA coordinated the programme as well as provided backstopping support.

The Approach

The programme was based on three approaches. Participatory Learning, Learning for application and Periodic Planning and Review of the learnings and the outcomes.

One of the approaches was a participatory learning environment which enabled learning from diverse experiences of the participants in working with agricultural information at field level. The group learning processes were also combined with individual assignments designed based on their own organizational priorities. Hands-on learning were integrated with critical support by well known and vastly experienced resource persons who could provide the necessary clarity and added value. Thus, these workshops were truly built on the existing experiences, skills, and critical capacities available within the group at each stage of the programme process.

Secondly, another important approach was operationalising learnings within organizations through specific participant’s assignments. Also, by insisting on the same individuals from each organization with requisite background and abilities to attend workshops, carry out assignments and train others, has helped in building core capacities within the organizations on documentation and communication. This showcased the learning efforts made by the participants as well as sharing organizational experiences in public domain.

Thirdly, joint planning and review processes integrated into the programme based on organizational commitment ensured the necessary focus and rigour. Involvement of the heads of the organizations in the review meetings along with the participants helped not only to realistically review the progress made but also ensure necessary support and commitment for the programme.

A case of GEAG

GEAG (Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group) is an NGO working for the sustainable development of poor and marginalised farming communities in Gorakhpur District, Eastern Uttar Pradesh. GEAG is a recognised centre for research, advocacy and networking, with a wide network of partner NGOs in Uttar Pradesh and other parts of North India (www.geagindia.org).  Dr. Shiraz Wazih, President of the GEAG network adds, “GEAG has been earlier associated with AME in the past too on collaborative field work.  GEAG also was trained by AME on ecological agriculture and LEISA in the year 1990-92.

As a member of the consortium forged in 2002, GEAG participated in the Documentation and Communication program (2003-05) with designated staff as part of the process. GEAG prioritised  the  theme-  ‘Role of women in strengthening extension services’.

One of the significant learnings was that documentation has to be a planned ongoing institutional core process – systematic and regularly done – otherwise, the real information is ‘lost’ in memory lapses at various levels.

–       GEAG staff

 

Three workshops on Sourcing, Documentation and Communication were designed.

GEAG prepared a draft text on ‘Participation of women in Agricultural Extension in Eastern Uttar Pradesh’. as part of their assignment after the first workshop on sourcing in November 2003. During the second workshop, on documentation during February 2004, the prepared text was critically analyzed, by participants and resource persons, which helped GEAG to identify gaps, anomalies and unclarities. These workshops were intensive, involving ‘peer reviews’ of individual participant’s efforts by the group as well as by resource persons.

Based on the learnings during this workshop, GEAG went back and revised the text to make it as complete as possible. This revised text was the basis for trying out ‘repackaging’ it into diverse information products – during the 3rd workshop on Communication held in September 2004. During this workshop the learning focus was on acquiring abilities to assess and select communication tools and media appropriate for specific message and target audiences.

Based on the learnings from the workshop, GEAG brought out communication products – A poster on “Women’s rights on agricultural land” for mass awareness in villages and a Video film.

The programme succeeded in developing knowledge and skills of the GEAG staff on various aspects of documentation and communication. There was better clarity on the various perspectives, facts and dimensions (social, technical and human) to be included to prepare a ‘complete text’ on a specific experience or process.

As a tool for advocacy

GEAG sustained the momentum created by these workshops, by taking it a step further. They used their case ‘role of women in strengthening extension services’, which evoked great response, as a tool for advocacy. They brought out a Policy Paper and shared with the Principal Secretary (Agriculture), UP State Government. It served as the key status paper in discussions pertaining to women’s issues in agricultural extension at regional and state levels. The issue of women farmers’ plight in agricultural extension, was recognized and significant policy changes were achieved in terms of recognition to the role of women farmers in extension.

“The compilation of this case study also triggered learning on the need for ground level actions for the identity and rights of women farmers which led to a campaign initiated in 2006 in the name of ‘AAROH’ in Uttar Pradesh. This involves about 200 NGOs and CBOs across 70 districts of UP in the five regions. The campaign has been recognized at state and national level which also helped in significant changes in laws and regulations in UP”, says Dr. Shiraz Wajih, GEAG.

Also a postal stamp was brought out as an outcome with focus on farm woman. All these served as the basis for their year long campaigns on women in agriculture. Inspired by the impact, new initiatives and projects were launched around the theme of women farmers.

Box 1: LEISA India – Hindi edition

·       Reaching farmers through institutions like Farmer Field Schools, farmer Clubs, resource centres, ATMA and           other government programmes

·       Reaching directly  facilitators and extension workers working at ground level

·       Influencing direct adoption of techniques in the local context

·       Growth in readership and increasing demand at field level

·       Farmer led  innovations get shared horizontally

·       Small-Marginal and women farmers are inspired towards lower costs in farming

·       Used by NGOs  as reference material in their training of frontline functionaries

·       Used by research stations, government departments,  in training programmes.

·       Useful in promoting climate resilient agriculture and peri urban initiatives.                                                                                      (GEAG, 2016)

 

Subsequently, in GEAG, there has been a tremendous upsurge in documentation and communication efforts, both in terms of quality and quantity. This is evident from the increase in the production of information products, improvement in quality of content as well as presentation. Also, improved ‘efforts’ of sharing experiences in public domain resulted in ‘spin offs’ in terms of support for several new development initiatives.

Prior to this, GEAG was involved in producing their own newsletter in Hindi, Vasundhara, which focused on sharing of local innovations and news. Later GEAG took the lead role in producing the hindi edition which happens to be the largest spoken Indian language, reaching wider audiences.(see Box 1). Currently, GEAG has been involved in producing three newsletters including LEISA India in Hindi language, 15 colourful  annual reports and over 400 documents which include, Studies, Research papers, Booklets, Manuals, project specific theme papers, videos.

Analysis and Conclusion

GEAG network was and still is a leading organisation in the hindi speaking regions of North India in development programmes, promoting agroecology in the field and leading advocacy. The capacity building programme in 2003-05 provided a great impetus to its purpose, visibility, quality of documentation and outreach. This is reflected in the priority it gives to good quality information analysis, consolidation and sharing. By capturing what is happening in the field, it has tremendously show cased evidences for influencing policies, initiating new development programmes (for instance,  peri-urban agriculture, local adaptations to climate change), debates in academia and Government programmes. By producing LEISA India Hindi edition, GEAG is  popularising agroecology practice and Family Farming movements, reaching out to local language literate communities.

 

K V S Prasad
Executive Director,
AME Foundation, Bangalore – 560085
www.amefound.org
E-mail: leisaindia@yahoo.co.in