The SMIP team is currently in the process of supporting the Zanzibar ASSP & ASDP-L projects to roll out their participatory and learning oriented M&E Plan. One of the first activities was to try and build the capacity of and motivate District Facilitators (extension officers, subject matter specialists etc) to facilitate the Farmer Field School (FFS) monitoring sessions.We did this through training – consisting of 1 1/2 days in a “class-room setting” and 4 1/2 days in the field working with the farmers.crw_7406

The data collection tools had already been pre-tested and adjusted but the training revealed so much, we found ourselves having to amend them all over again. Thank goodness for the project team! Because of their genuine concern for and intimate understanding of the communities and context within which they’re working, were flexible and able to adapt and adjust quickly with each new insight.

Adjustments happened because, as a team, we were able to see and recognize the significance of the “small stuff”..For example..beans

Most tools are individual based and don’t require a group consensus (simply because the relationship within many of the groups and between the groups & facilitators aren’t at a place that would enable this yet). We also recognized the need for individuals to be able to voice their views privately and so placed the flipcharts etc. where they could place their beans out of sight of everyone else. Gradually, however, one of the members of the project team (a highly skilled community facilitator) began to see a pattern…the farmers were copying one another and placing beans in the box that had the most beans!! We found a solution to this (using a cloth with lots of pockets where the beans will be placed without anyone seeing where they are until a final count). But more important and more challenging was to understand why this was occurring.

Participation, to state the obvious, is about people! Their beliefs, perceptions, relationships, histories…and it’s often very complicated. This is the first time the farmers are being involved in monitoring..and being provided with an opportunity to voice their views. At this point – they’re not sure how this information will be used…and whether or not will be in their interests. So the best bet is probably to play it safe and go with the majority voice! For the system to work, all facilitators are going to have to work very hard to gain their trust and confidence. Concerns raised will need to be responded to and not simply ignored…This doesn’t mean that a solution needs to be found for every problem (and there will be many) but that the facilitator needs to take it seriously and facilitate a discussion amongst the farmer groups to think about alternatives themselves. The facilitators need to ensure that the information is communicated to the Project team – who, in turn, need to do the same and provide timely feedback. Successes need to be recognized and shared widely. This is not a process that will occur overnight and one that cannot occur without sincere commitment and support from all sides.

However, judging from the wealth of information we were able to generate from just a few sessions during the training and the implications of the information for positive impact…it’s well worth it!