When is the best time to form an SFGA? Usually it is when several small farmer groups start to see distinct benefits to be gained from inter-group cooperation, and have clearly defined, common objectives. But getting to that point can take time - small farmer groups usually operate in isolation from one another and have little idea of what other groups are doing.
That situation changes as members from one group begin to make contact with members or friends in other groups, and realize that they share similar problems or ideas. Normally, the process of interaction develops slowly. The IGP can stimulate the process by encouraging inter-group meetings to discuss common problems, organizing inter-group training sessions on topics of common interest, or arranging for exchange visits between groups or their leaders. The interaction phase is the first step towards establishing an SFGA.
Once group members begin to see the potential benefits of inter-group cooperation, the IGP can encourage them to start more formal discussions on common problems. These problems might include:
Overcoming common problems is a goal that all can focus on. It helps bind people together, gives them a shared purpose, and strengthens group solidarity.
There may be many common problems to solve. Therefore, the groups should prioritize them - i.e. indicate which is the most important or urgent, which second, which third, etc. Once the groups have identified their most important problems, they can decide what actions need to be taken and how an inter-group association might help them achieve their goals.
They might need to discuss:
The groups might also consult with local authorities and development agencies that could provide technical and other support. It is up to the groups to decide how much these outsiders should be involved in their discussions. Nevertheless, these actors should be kept informed - their exclusion from the process could lead to suspicion and mistrust.
In their initial discussions, the groups identify and prioritize common problems. The groups should also have a rough idea of how forming an SFGA might benefit them. Now they need to sit down and define more clearly the SFGA's objectives and its proposed activities and services. If the groups have a clear idea of how inter-group cooperation can help accomplish their goals, then the SFGA is much more likely to succeed. This is a critical stage in SFGA formation, and requires concentrated effort. But the time is well spent.
To get the process moving, interested groups are encouraged to study the list of shared problems, then see whether the groups have the collective capacity to solve them. They will then be able to work out a strategy to solve each problem, and to assess the expected benefits and costs. After this assessment, they may decide that the expected benefits of their proposed strategy are not attractive. They can then explore alternative strategies until they are satisfied. This is how the process might look:
The above process may take several rounds of discussion before all points have been covered. The result should be a clear statement of goals, such as: "We want to improve our members' incomes " or "we want to help members market their crops."
Once they have defined their broad objectives, the groups will need to ask themselves: what type of services should the SFGA undertake to help us achieve our objectives? They will need to reach a consensus on what should be done, and prepare a draft work plan on how to do it.
SFGA activities and member services vary, but tend to fall into the following categories:
Selecting the "right member service" - i.e. the one best suited to the member groups' financial resources and technical skills - must be done very carefully. Key questions to be studied, and answered, include:
What services do the groups want?
The decision on which activities or services to undertake will depend on many factors. Some of those factors may change as the SFGA expands and matures. The SFGA may well have to adjust its objectives, activities and services as it develops.
Remember that SFGA activities and services aim at satisfying the needs of all the groups who want to join together. If they do not satisfy the groups' needs, the groups will soon lose interest and leave.
In deciding on an activity or service, the groups need to consider:
SINGLE OR MULTIPLE SERVICES? IT ALL DEPENDS ON THE GROUP...