The Nile Basin Development Challenge (NBDC), funded by the CGIAR Challenge Program for Water and Food (CPWF), is currently working with innovation platforms to improve the resilience of rural livelihoods in the Ethiopian highlands through a landscape approach to rainwater management (RWM).
Rainwater management interventions in Ethiopia have historically been implemented in a top-down fashion and this has led to several challenges to effective implementation, often revolving around issues of participation.
In this basin, we have established three platforms, Diga and Jeldu in Oromiya region and Fogera in Amhara region. The aim of the platforms is to bring a range of stakeholders together to identify technical and institutional challenges around RWM, enhance communication, coordination and knowledge sharing and develop joint action to bring about change.
Stakeholders include local government administration, members of the bureau of agriculture, national research institutes, a local NGO and community leaders. However, more needs to be done to ensure that community views are adequately represented.
In 2011, CPWF awarded a grant through its Innovation Fund to investigate and document the effectiveness of participatory video (PV) as a tool to bring local issues to the attention of planners and implementers of rainwater management interventions in Ethiopia.
The resulting participatory video made by community members from three kebeles in Fogera woreda was recently shown to members of the Fogera Innovation Platform (IP). The video, titled ‘A Rope to Tie a Lion’, captures community views on land and water management and focused on three issues: unrestricted grazing, water stress and government-led soil and water conservation work. See here for more information about the PV process we followed.
The film received a positive response from members of the innovation platform who seemed to gain some insight into community perspectives.
A national researcher stated ‘We have a lot to learn from community members. I have now come to realize that the farming community is capable of identifying problems and indicating solutions’.
A member of the woreda administration said ‘Today I have come to realize that farmers can play a role in solving their problems by participating actively. It is advisable to keep involving farmers in discussions, they should participate in all stages, from planning and preparation to implementation’.
Many of the IP members expressed surprise at farmers’ ability to handle video technology. One stakeholder said ‘I never imagined that they had the capacity to acquaint themselves with technology so fast. I am amazed to see farmers handle the cameras with such competence’. However, the novelty of seeing a video produced by farmers may have overshadowed the messages being expressed. The extent to which IP members really listened to the content is uncertain, but it has been a useful first step towards increasing community voice within the platform.
In discussions following the screening, IP members decided to pilot area enclosures and back-yard fodder development to address the issue of ‘unrestricted grazing’. Restricting the movement of livestock was prioritized because livestock are considered to contribute to land degradation and impact negatively on the soil and water conservation measures currently being implemented by the government. However, if restricting grazing is to be feasible, alternative sources of fodder must be provided.
A specific micro-watershed was selected by the platform with the aim of enclosing part of a communal grazing area to grow fodder that can be cut and carried to surrounding homesteads. Sufficient amounts of fodder cannot be produced from the selected area alone, therefore farmers will be provided with additional fodder plants which they can plant at their homesteads. The hope is that these interventions will enable farmers to gradually move towards keeping their livestock at home rather than allowing them to graze freely and so contribute to better land and water management. IP members also believe that better feeding and livestock management strategies will improve the livelihoods of community members.
However, as the video demonstrates, restricting grazing is a controversial issue that will be hard to tackle due to differences in perspectives between farmers and decision makers. Community members have expressed a number of concerns. For example, those without livestock will no longer be able to collect dung for fuel from communal grazing areas; if cattle are no longer gathered in communal areas, breeding will be difficult; keeping livestock at home without sufficient fodder will require additional time and labour to search for feed; and those with less land worry they will be unable to provide for their livestock’s fodder needs.
These are valid concerns which will need to be considered if the interventions are to be successful. During the PV exercise local development agents were informally consulted in order to gauge why they think community members are reluctant to limit livestock movements. Many seemed bewildered and cited farmer ‘lack of awareness’ as a reason, but did not convey any of the reasons captured during the PV process. It is not certain what attempts, if any, have been made by development agents to understand these issues from the farmers’ point of view.
Even though the PV process has enabled community members to voice their views to the platform, this does not guarantee that these views, and the diverse livelihood strategies and needs of community members, will be taken into account when developing and implementing the proposed interventions. Community members in the selected intervention area were not involved in the participatory video work so have not yet been sufficiently engaged and may not be aware of the innovation platform aims and activities. The platform members themselves will be responsible for working with them and although many talk convincingly about the need to include community members it is apparent that there is considerable variation in interpretations of what ‘participation’ means in reality.
While tools such as PV can help to establish lines of communication between farmers and decision makers and prompt a degree of reflection, which is particularly important in areas where farmers are often perceived as ‘backwards’ by higher level actors, this is not enough. There still needs to be attitudinal change on the part of higher level actors and a willingness to listen to farmers’ views; broader changes in the culture of decision making among higher level stakeholders, particularly more flexibility in the planning and implementation of policy at local level; and an openness by community members to engage, although this requires trust to be established. None of this is easy to accomplish.
In this particular situation, continuous engagement is required to build on the PV work and achieve more meaningful change. The video will be screened to the targeted community members to try and build trust and understanding of the innovation platform process. The next steps will bridge gaps between IP members and community members through practical engagement. This will include providing training and capacity building to platform members to further foster participatory approaches and encourage reflection on both the process and outcomes so far in order to consolidate learning.