Information and knowledge management
Participatory documentation - Farmer led documentation
Farmer led documentation
It is increasingly clear that sustainable agriculture and natural resource management depend on the effective interaction between knowledge and experiences of local farmers and those of development agents. Documentation and sharing of local experiences, practices and initiatives plays an important role in this interaction. Documentation, however, is frequently done in an extractive mode, where outsiders control the process and the documented information is stored outside community reach. More recently, there has been a move toward outsiders supporting local people to do their own documentation; helping them tell their own stories. The results of such Farmer Led Documentation (FLD) efforts can be used by community members for internal learning (within the community), for exchange with other communities and for sharing with development workers, researchers and policymakers. FLD in itself is a learning and capacity building process. Documentation, especially when done with others, helps the farmer to analyse what s/he knows and capture that information to recount to other people.
In Bolivia, for example, where AGRECOL Andes introduced FLD to rural communities, the documentation process starts at the community level. Everyone interested can participate. The community or farmer group identifies which documentation tools are to be used and, if needed, which members should be trained to use the tools. Through participatory rural appraisal (PRA)-type of exercises, they decide what they want to document (a practice, an innovation, a project) and which elements (objects, people, activities) need to be captured to bring their message across. A story board or script is used to capture and process material, which is then presented to the whole community for discussion and validation.
Since 2004, partners in PROLINNOVA and COMPAS have tried out different ways of supporting farmers in doing their own documentation. Farmer groups and communities were introduced to various forms of documentation, such as participatory video (Ghana), and the use of digital or still photography (Bolivia, South Africa). Positive results from these activities inspired PROLINNOVA to partner up with Pelum-Uganda and Oxfam Novib to organize an international exchange and capacity building workshop about FLD in November 2006. In 2007, this partnership has continued to facilitate follow up activities, such as the implementation of FLD pilots by workshop participants.
Though experiences are promising, many challenges are still to be addressed. For example, finding the balance between opportunities of modern technologies, while at the same time keeping in mind the feasibility and sustainability of the proposed solutions remains a challenge. Technologies such as photo or video may suit the visual culture and illiteracy levels often present in farmer communities, but the necessary equipment can be delicate and expensive. To tackle this, PROLINNOVA partners (including farmers) are looking for ways to learn from and strengthen traditional methods of knowledge sharing and documentation that are already in use by local communities, such as drawing, drama or storytelling. In addition, they are seeking opportunities to cover costs for purchase and maintenance of electronic equipment.
PROLINNOVA considers FLD to be instrumental for promotion of local innovation. It is not only important to document the innovations such as new water-harvesting techniques, it is as - or even more - important to describe the process of innovation through which innovations come to be. Documenting this process places the actual innovations in context and provides deeper insight to those who wish to enhance enabling conditions for local innovation. FLD activities to be implemented by PROLINNOVA will provide interesting testing grounds for addressing challenges, and further the understanding of the role of FLD in local development efforts.