Effective Pedagogy and Research perspective

Experiential learning based pedagogy, farmer-centric participatory research and knowledge exchange are essential for promotion of agroecological education.

Way back in 1982, recognising the negative effects of high input agriculture, and link between agriculture, ecology and human dimensions, a few enthusiastic individuals in the Netherlands launched Agriculture, Man, Ecology as an international training programme on ecological agriculture. Attracting many participants from developing countries, during the early eighties, Agriculture Man Ecology, made a significant contribution in building awareness on ecological agriculture. Moving to India, AME continued as a project continuing its efforts in propagating LEISA (becoming popular as agroecology) as an answer to the high input agriculture that was being promoted extensively in India. It focused on extending technical support to interested organisations through hands-on trainings as well as by pioneering participatory learning processes in promoting LEISA/agroeclology. Since late 90’s, intensified its efforts in farmer centric participatory learning processes in rain fed areas where small holders are the majority. In 2002, since becoming AME Foundation, further promoted a combination of Sustainable Agriculture practices in dry lands for improved farm productivity and farm livelihoods based on agroecological principles.

Participatory approaches were central to AMEs training processes

The pedagogical journey gradually moved from ‘training courses’ to ‘experiential’ participatory learning processes. Every intervention starts with PRA (Participatory Rural Appraisal) at village level. PRAs helped to understand the village context, the communities and their specific needs and opportunities. Use of suitable PRA tools helped in learning from the communities about the ground realities and in designing suitable learning processes and working strategies.

This was generally followed by a season long joint learning process like the PTD (Participatory Technology Development). Here, the farmer groups try out a basket of options in a limited area, compare the results with their own normal practices, decide simple, affordable and culturally acceptable options.  Through specific crop based PTD processes, farmers identify major problems; include options they know and suggested by specialists;  identify new problems emerging. The process empowers the farmers in learning to  address their own situations through experimentation and finding suitable options.

At the end of the season, farmers assessment is consolidated and shared in the multistakeholder annual meets. For example, two crop based working groups – Groundnut Working Group and Cotton Round Table  emerged. The significant and challenging aspect has been creating ‘mutual respect’ between formal and informal knowledge systems. The practitioners and academics put their minds together, reviewed previous season’s suggestions, examined local solutions emerging from the field. Thus, it enabled ‘two way learning’ …and in milder terms, a two way validation process!, enabling enhanced mutual respect, and in a way, mutual accountabilities too. There was no ‘blue print’ approach. Growing organically from a group of few committed experts, gradually included national and international research institutions leading to joint research initiatives, access to better seed varieties, ecological options for disease control and enhanced NGO–GO collaborations. AMEF also facilitated multi stakeholder knowledge exchange processes in other programmes like urban agriculture and knowledge exchange on agroecology.

FFS (Farmer Field Schools) have been the most recognisable contribution AMEF has made to agroecological education process. In this season long learning process, 20-30 farmers meet every fortnight, jointly observe agro eco systems, analyse and take ‘decisions’ on soil, water, and crop management. The pedagogy enables them to discover the ‘truth’ and understand the ‘science’ behind the practice through studies, games, models, to mention a few, thus, demystifying concepts through innovative learning events. For example, ‘insect zoos’, helps them to observe the behaviour of pests and predators. Farmers share their learnings with other farmers through field days organised at village/block level enabling scaling up of suitable alternatives. The facilitator creates the necessary learning environment rather than jumping to ‘teach’ and ‘instruct’. Special attention is paid towards learning needs of youth and women.

Preparing trained agriculture professionals is a big challenge. Visualising the need for creating a new cadre of young agri professionals, AME ventured into organising 9 month long Sustainable Agriculture Fellowship programme to selected young graduates on agroecology and participatory learning processes. The programme however could not be continued owing to lack of donor support. However, sustainable was, systematically training local farm youth involved in development programmes through 15 day TOT’s. They became the torch bearers of ecological agriculture in the field.

Reflections on learning processes

Being associated with AMEF for more than two decades and International Year of Family Farming events, following are are my reflections.

Firstly, agroecological education needs to recognise multiple realities – the ‘Bigger picture’ as well as the ground realities – Ecosystems being global, interrelated, interdependent. For instance, climate changes do impact globally, though differentially. Two farms in the neighbourhood are not identical – a legendary organic farmer’s life long efforts in improving soils gives spectacular results while neighbouring farm returns are dismal owing to depleted soils.

Agroecological education is built on recognising context specific realities and complexities – constantly enriched by local community innovations. Agroecological education should recognise the importance of ‘learning from communities’ and ‘learning from each other’.

Fundamentally, agroecological education has to be strongly rooted in basic principles/value premises of Participation, Mutual respect and Empathy. Farmer’s participation meaning farmers being involved right from problem identification, trial design, assessment, acceptance or rejection. Mutual respect meaning respecting farming community and NGOs’ contextual knowledge in terms of needs, priorities and challenges, therefore, recognising them as providers’ of knowledge/co-generators of knowledge,  rather than passive recipients of options. Empathy meaning relating to and identifying with diverse ‘realities’ farmer is facing –  landscape, climate aberrations, markets, gender roles, migratory patterns etc. while conceptualising suitable technologies or social processes for interventions.

Effective agroecological education needs to be built around three pillars

  • Pedagogy – context and group specific
  • Knowledge exchange based on mutual respect
  • Alternative Agroecological research

Pedagogy needs to recognise that a) agricultural education deals with farmers who are adult learners, entrepreneurial and innovative b) farming community is not homogenous – diverse in terms of access to resources, capacities etc. c) farming situation and challenges are multiple – climate, markets, finance, knowledge, low self esteem. One fit curriculum and one fit pedagogy does not work.

Pedagogy has to be built around Adult Learning Principles based on practical learning, importantly experiential learning methods. It is well known that, for durable and changed behaviours besides enhanced skills, the learning processes have to be experiential, more so, as farmers are adult learners. To keep youth interested, the pedagogy and content needs to be exciting and appropriate – rewarding in terms of financial returns, social recognition – both, immediate, as well as long term.

Knowledge exchange: Recognising that multiple knowledge systems exist, creating an enabling environment for exchange is required. For example, in one of the programmes on millet varieties, while scientific assessment highlighted the nutrient content, the farmer’s assessment was based on fodder suitability, nutrition, taste, cuisine, shelf life etc. Sometimes, an eco-friendly option too could be considered as gender inappropriate or culturally unacceptable.

Alternative agroecological research: An international conference was organised during IYFF in Montepellier, France, 2014, involving FAO and global research organisations, NGOs and Farmer organisations. The following perspectives were presented in the plenary based on working paper prepared and multi-stakeholder group discussions facilitated by me. Recognising the importance of context and constituency specific research; understanding the differential needs and abilities of the communities; recognising complex social issues including resource access, entitlement and knowledge; need for farmer centric participatory research based on mutual respect towards alternative knowledge systems; research ‘validating’ field phenomena; focusing on cyclical and systemic research rather than linear models alone; and, inclusive governance where research needs to closely work with farmer organizations and civil societies. If not all, some of these perspectives need to be mainstreamed. Research should become increasingly farmer centric.  Formal research should encourage field innovation, recognise and examine the working of popular local alternatives. Fostering mutually inclusive partnerships in development with civil society and farmer organisations is necessary.

Other critical enabling factors for agroecological education include a) familiarity of   educators with experiential learning processes besides technological choices; b) systematic documentation of local experiences, and, c) systematic consolidation of learnings based on multiple evidences, data triangulation, systematic feedback and impact assessment.


K V S Prasad. A perspective on the working of multistakeholder processes. LEISA India, Vol 18.4, December 2016, p.10-14

K V S Prasad

K V S Prasad

Consultant Editor, LEISA India

Email: prasadkvs@amefound.org

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