Working with new entrants to integrated agriculture-aquaculture
Developing integrated agriculture-aquaculture (IAA) systems for smallholder farmers requires their participation. This is crucial because farmers are the ultimate designers and managers of farming systems.
Often, smallholder farms are highly complex mixtures of crops, trees and livestock, which vary seasonally, using a range of resources and cultivated ecosystems. With such a diverse and difficult set of conditions, field extension-workers are often confused as to where and how to start.
One possibility is to utilize a very simple farmer-to-farmer technique that enables farmers to draw models of their farms with the help of other farmers and extensionists. The importance of this exercise is that farmers learn by doing.
The objective of drawings is to use this medium as a means for farmers to visualize their farm system so that they are better able to see new possibilities for integrating farm enterprises. These could be integrating new enterprises into the farm system or creating new linkages between existing ones.
Hopefully, there can be followup drawings with farmers to see how their farm systems evolve as they adopt new integrations.
The most appropriate setting for this exercise is in the farmer's own environment on the smallholding or in the village. Usually, it is better to start with groups rather than individual farmers.
Not only do groups allow more people to participate but also provide better dynamics than individual interaction when trying to make new entrants aware of different types of farm integration.
Group composition is also important. Mixed groups, which include women, men and children often work very well. However, the facilitator needs to ensure that individual interests do not dominate the gathering. In this context, it may be useful to have followup visits with single gender groups to see if viewpoints differ. You may choose to target groups of farmers who are likely to benefit from certain forms of integration. Rice farmers would be a suitable group for discussing rice-fish integration, for example:
- Cordially greet your farmer group and introduce yourself to everyone in the manner appropriate for the cultural setting.
- Explain that you have come to learn and understand how the farmers traditionally manage their farms.
- Suggest that they take you for a walk around the village or farm so that you can better understand their agricultural setting. Walking around and chatting in a relaxed atmosphere allow farmers time to relate their experiences. Thus, social distance and communication barriers are reduced. Do not take notes during this walk, just listen.
- Once the walk is over, continue the discussion. At an appropriate time, explain that with so much information, you find it difficult to visualize the whole farm system. Suggest to them that it would be easier for you to understand their farms if they could be represented in a drawing.
- If the farmers are agreeable to this idea, then explain carefully how to proceed with a drawing. Describe how actual plant or animal material can be placed on the ground to symbolize individual enterprises.
- Once farmers grasp this idea, then introduce the idea of linkages between enterprises with arrows. These arrows can be scratched out on the ground with a stick or marked with ash from fires. By doing this exercise for themselves, farmers learn more quickly the possibilities for integration on their farms.
- Farmers should be allowed to interact among themselves so they can exchange ideas and produce a picture through joint effort. This group effort enables farmers to quickly learn from each other a range of ways of integrating farm enterprises.
If several farmers draw their farm systems together, drawing becomes a valuable tool for exchange of ideas between peers. Interchange of ideas facilitates generation of new ideas among farmers.
- The final drawing should show the full range of enterprises on the farm and linkages between them. This conveys farm integration more effectively than either written or spoken word. A picture of the farm system helps farmers appreciate their own farm as an integrated unit of interlinked enterprises.
- Finally, the farmers should be encouraged to consider how new linkages, inputs (on-farm and off-farm) and enterprises might be included on the drawing. Once a picture is drawn, it is easier for farmer/researcher/extensionist to see the possibility of making new links.
- If a new enterprise is being introduced, it can be added to the drawing so the picture becomes the medium through which to discuss possible effects on farm operations. Drawings of individual farms enable the extensionist to see how integration varies from farm to farm.
- Drawing on a regular basis enables extensionists and farmers to follow through in a stepwise fashion the evolution of integration.
If farmers expand their drawing to include the whole village area, then common property resources can also be identified which have potential for linking to farm enterprises, such as aquaculture, livestock, etc.
Incorporation of new enterprises, such as forestry and aqua-culture, requires careful integration into traditional farming systems so that food security and income are not disrupted.
By drawing farm systems, farmers are better able to understand how new enterprises can be slotted in and enhance production of current enterprises with minimum disruption. Farmers can also evolve new integrations and management systems for themselves when they visualize their whole farm in a drawing.
Farm diagrams can also provide information on labour allocation with regard to gender. In the diagram above, simple symbols indicate whether men or women or both are moving resources around.
General principles for working with farmers
- Do not arrive on the farm at a bad time. One should check that farmers could receive you at the times you propose. This is particularly important when one wants to include mixed gender groups where women have different daily routines to men.
- Do not arrive on the farm with a large number of colleagues. This not only intimidates the farmers but also denies you the value of arranging your interview so that you empower women and other disadvantaged groups to speak out. More knowledge and experience are gained where a few interview many.
- Do not arrive on the farm in city clothes and giving orders. This only serves to increase the distance between you and the farmers. Your attire and attitude are powerful signals to rural folk; what they say is largely determined by how close you can get to them.
- Do not rush the interview. This usually results in you reconfirming what you already know because the unhurried exploration for new insights and cross- checking has not been possible. Relax, listen more than you talk and show respect of their knowledge by following up on leads offered by the farmers.
- Do not force your agenda. Our overriding concern to get the output needed and conclude the interview quickly reduces the quality of our data and our relationship with the household. Rather, we should let the information emerge naturally. Forcing farmers to draw diagrams not only results in you drawing the diagram for them, but also in the farmers finding little value in them. This makes it difficult for you to return. If farmers learn from the interview, they will invite you back.
- Do not continue on with a bad interview. When, for any number of reasons, you find yourself interviewing farmers who are distracted by other matters, as happens to us all, recognize the fact and tactfully withdraw. It is better for you and others that follow you to have good relationships with the community rather than good data on the community.
- Do not appear with paper and pens and instruct them to draw a picture of their farms. This will not work. The picture must emerge naturally as a way for the farmers to express all that is happening on their farms.
- Explain to the farmers that they are the teachers in this exercise and you, the extension worker, are the pupil. This shows respect for the farmers' know-ledge and provides a more equitable working relationship between the visitor and the farmer.
- It is important to encourage farmers to use their own methods and materials to represent farm enterprises. The visitor should avoid doing any drawing; otherwise, the farmers might be intimidated and withdrawn.
Issues for further consideration
Experience has shown that the methods described here are useful in new situations for an «outsider» to understand any farmers' system, not just new entrants. The approach has also worked well for farmers to learn how they can further improve an existing fish production system they have managed for some time.
On the other hand, the approach is very time-consuming if used on a wider scale, e.g. in extension efforts. In this respect, there are roles and experiences with mass media and mass organizations for large-scale extension activities.
In this process, there may be potentially different roles for fisheries-trained persons and nonspecialists. Having multidisciplinary teams in the exercise has proven valuable.
Users should be prepared for communication problems between outsider and farmer, and how to deal with the situation. The role for translation needs to be considered, not just for foreign nationals but also for nonlocal language speaking nationals.
In cultures where gender, caste, class and ethnicity prevent communities from meeting together at one level, alternatives for application need to be designed. The comment that «mixed groups that include men, women and children» often work well is not universally applicable.
The application of this approach to community-managed fishponds or collective fish culture needs to be assessed and compared with other methods.