Participatory learning for action research (PLAR)

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Context: Increased adoption of technologies and improved research in West Africa emphasising gender inclusion for adopting appropriate rice varieties for Upland, Lowland and irrigated ecologies. In this research, farmers experiment with varieties and give feedback about how to continue to focus on appropriate technologies. This project strengthens links between the informal seed sector in West Africa with women’s empowerment. It also links women smallholder farmers to research, microfinance and markets. And, most important, it enables women’s different and diverse preferences to be expressed, having long-lasting impacts on research and local institutions.

Interface: Participatory varietal selection engages both men and women in criteria selection for rice varieties. Participatory learning and action research is used. Farmers are taught to record what is being observed and then through monthly farmer meetings they come together to interpret this information in groups. Researchers facilitate these meetings in order to bring out farmer knowledge and to better understand and learn about what the research needs are. Community networks are created.

Learning: Farmer-to-farmer learning, bringing 20-25 farmers together to exchange, knowledge, attitudes, experiences and practices. Provides clues to researchers about needs, technologies and appropriate varieties in particular ecologies. Different preferences for rice varieties between men and women. Bring women’s needs into the framing of appropriate varieties. In difficult times, men leave the community to find “greener pastures” whereas women cannot leave. Different requirements.

Channel: Farmer-to-farmer learning videos capture farmer innovations and transfer across communities, scaling across relevant regions and geographies. These are translated into appropriate languages. National extensionists and non-governmental organisations were used to transmit videos. Each are required to track where the videos go and facilitate feedback from the communities to provide clues about their relevance and use. This communication strategy has proven to be an “appropriate learning tool”. When tested in Benin and Togo, it was found to be significantly more effective in changing behaviours than conventional innovation training and visit systems of the late eighties and nineties.

Outcome: Appropriate varieties for conditions and different varieties for women and men. Learning about how to care for plots, faster maturing varieties (in four African countries) to address crucial period of hunger. Now identifying changes required for their own technologies and practices. For instance, for boiling rice women were using 25kg buckets but requested 200-300 kg containers to make their work easier. Women who watched the video enhanced their creativity and adapted technologies to change their own environment – viewed as a form of empowerment.