REPORTING ON PARTICIPATORY APPROACHES TO AGRICULTURAL EXTENSION IN GLOBAL COMMUNITIES RWANDA – BY EVAN BARTLETT

 

I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to use a Samsung tablet to enter data standing ankle deep in cabbage with the cheeky equatorial sun having no regard for your brightness settings, and a dozen curious Rwandans huddling around you while you are trying to figure out how to hit ‘this’ box and not ‘that’ box in Excel and failing and everything zooms in to 400%. Well, I have; I can tell you it’s not so fun. As excited as I first was by the high-tech notion of using a tablet to enter data in the field, I very shortly (ok, immediately) ditched the machine for my pen and notebook.

So me and my pen and my notebook and Donald- the local Global Communities staffer who had the great fortune of being assigned to be my interpreter and facilitator- spent several weeks trotting around the country to investigate these Farmer Field Schools. Farmer Field Schools (FFS) are a participatory approach to agricultural extension whereby farmers are given an opportunity to test and adopt improved agricultural production techniques and new fortified crops in order to increase incomes and improve household nutrition. The FFS approach is aligned with the Rwandan National Food and Nutrition Policy. The Global Communities USAID/Twiyubake program, on which I am working, uses the Farmer Field School Approach in order to promote Bio-Intensive Agricultural Techniques (BIAT) that is meant to increase yields- increasing income and improving household nutrition. My job would be to ascertain whether beneficiaries were actually adopting improved agriculture techniques at home, evaluate why or why not, and make a recommendation for better implementation of Global Communities FFS approach.

A Farmer Field School Harvest.

A Farmer Field School Harvest.

In districts in the North, East and South, I gathered (through Donald) various data points and answers to questions from a checklist I had drawn up with inquiries about household nutrition, demonstration plot workload distribution, gender balance in FFS committees and amble open space for commentary and recommendations from beneficiaries. However this is the first lesson I learned: qualitative, and even quantitative analyses, have to be flexible. I realized some of my questions were terrible, so I stopped asking them. And I realized there were some valuable questions that I wasn’t even asking, so I added them. There is a time and a place to strive for consistent inputs and results; my nine week internship in the field is not it. Which brings me to lesson number two; although I have a lot of freedom to develop my own tools for collecting data in the field, without a truly specific scope of work, I’m not really doing impact evaluation, monitoring and evaluation, programming or implementation. It feels like I am doing a little bit of all of the above, which is apparently what is called “an assessment.” So it’s rather an information overload that has led to a lot of me trying to decipher my own handwriting as I type all my notes, and what feels like carpal tunnel syndrome.

Nutritional choices: an FFS carrot in one hand, a doughnut in the other.

Nutritional choices: an FFS carrot in one hand, a doughnut in the other.

I have now completed all my visits to the field. My challenge for my remaining two weeks in the Kigali office is to consider how to present a great deal of raw, mostly qualitative, data and impressions in a concise and cogent way for the Global Communities audience. As I am officially a consultant, Global Communities is looking for an actionable report, with recommendations for the improvement of their Farmer Field Schools. I can happily provide suggestions from my outside perspective, however I am not an agronomist, engineer, market specialist or any other expert, and therefore I cannot really present any specific, technical proposals. I do hope to create a deliverable which will be of some use to Global Communities and which reflects the level of analysis I know that I am capable of. At the very least, I do have plenty of ideas scribbled on the last page of a notebook that has traveled Rwanda.

A meeting at a Farmer Field School in the Kayonza district.

A meeting at a Farmer Field School in the Kayonza district.

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