I was the main facilitator for the situational analysis launch meeting because I am coordinating all Humidtropics situational analyses as part of the methodological contribution from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) to Humidtropics. The World Vegetable Centre (AVRDC) had invited a very representative group of different Thai stakeholders from research, local government and civil society to take part in the launch meeting. Colleagues from other Humidtropics international partners (ICRAF, IITA) were also present.
After the initial introductions, I set out presenting my posters with the purpose, method and expected outline of a Humidtropics situational analysis. This being Thailand, the reaction to my presentation from the local partners was subdued. However, ensuing discussions revealed that the procedure that I was suggesting was not in line with what our local partners were expecting out of Humidtropics. Rather than another desktop study of the current situation of the agrifood systems, which they said had already been done, they were expecting research activities to start on the ground and tackle the problems they had already identified as crucial for sustainable development of the agrifood systems in Nan Province. (I am still ready to offer a bottle of Singha beer to anybody who can show me such a report, in whatever language, with an evidence-based description of the current or recent situation for human development, production systems, markets and institutions, and natural resources management all in one.)
Anyway, we had a problem. The research method I was proposing was visibly not going to be adopted willingly by our local partners. Humidtropics international partners had a quick meeting and Jim Hammond of ICRAF suggested to relate the situational analysis to the problems local stakeholders were already facing. So Jim facilitated a session where he asked the local Thai partners to identify three most important problems faced by the agrifood systems in Nan, and to relate those problems to original causes and possible rural development consequences. With those problem trees identified, I could then go back to the outline of the situational analysis and have the local partners identify sources of existing data to collect evidence for their problem trees using a World Café session. Later in the day I organized a Fishbowl discussion where the partners discussed how to implement the situational analysis in the coming months. The discussion was really slow to start because everybody was beating around the bush and hesitant to discuss one crucial element: funding. Only after Eric Koper, Chief Officer Management for Humidtropics, had made explicit that Humidtropics would fund the research activities of the local partners did the discussion on what next really become concrete. Nonetheless, the Thai partners still have to decide how they want to proceed in the near future. They have taken the control of the process. As scientists, I guess we have to find the right research tools and methods that will respond to solving their real-life problems.
Using the lessons I had learned in Thailand, I approached the situational analysis launch meeting in Cameroon on June 2nd very differently. My objective was now to launch a more-focused research process that would contribute to gathering evidence on the specific problems already identified by the local partners. The Cameroonian partners had gone through a Rapid Appraisal for Agricultural Innovation Systems facilitated by Marc Schut of Wageningen University (WUR). They had thus already identified the main constraints of their agrifood systems. I asked them to build problem trees for the three main constraints identified previously: two groups formed spontaneously to discuss causes and consequences of low soil productivity and of unsatisfactory agricultural training to farmers. (Surprisingly, nobody volunteered to work on climate change adaptation, identified as one of the three most important constraints in the Cameroonian Humidtropics Field Sites.) The process then continued as implemented in Thailand: World Café to list sources of relevant data that would provide evidence to describe the problems, and a self-facilitated discussion on how to organize ourselves to implement the situational analysis. Because we were only 12 participants in Cameroon and because Africans are often more exuberant speakers than Thais, I opted for the stricter participation rules and smaller talking group of the Samoan Circle. I mentioned from the start of the Samoan Circle that Humidtropics would be providing funding for the situational analysis to avoid a slow start of the discussion. After just one hour of discussion, the action site facilitators Nérée Onguene and Didier Boyogueno of IRAD had an action plan for the coming two weeks and all local participants had agreed to form a supervisory committee and work on terms of reference for consultants to undertake a situational analysis focusing on low soil productivity and unsatisfactory agricultural training to farmers in Cameroonian Humidtropics Field Sites.
The lesson I have learned from facilitating these two events: when the research methods and tools are tailored to and focused on the problems faced by local development partners, there is much stronger adoption of the research agenda. I look forward to field-testing further this new participatory and focused method for Humidtropics situational analyses in upcoming launch meetings in West Ethiopia and Osun State of Nigeria.
Blog by Jo Cadilhon, Senior Agricultural Economist, Policy, Trade and Value Chains Program, ILRI
P.S. After coming back to ILRI, I held further discussions with colleagues on how to engage local partners actively into the Humidtropics situational analyses while trying to maintain them as generic as possible so as to keep the original scope of this research activity: providing a big picture of the current systems for agrifood production, marketing, institutions and natural resources management. In consultation with ILRI colleagues in charge of the Systems Analysis and Global Synthesis research theme of Humidtropics, and having also discussed the issue with the West Africa Flagship Manager and colleagues at AVRDC and ILRI Ethiopia who will be in charge of undertaking the upcoming situational analyses in Cameroon, Nigeria and Ethiopia, we have all agreed that a Humidtropics situational analysis should still be an overall description of all the components of the current production, marketing and natural resources management systems in place. However, when local R4D platforms have already started working on intervention points, the supervisory committee of the situational analyses will have to pay extra attention to integrating the issues identified as important by past local stakeholder meetings into the situational analysis report.