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“I thought it was just another workshop,” said Programme Manager Martin Liywalii, “but in three-and-a-half days we actually made a product, which would otherwise have taken us months!”

IFAD staff and their partners in the field along with farmers from Ethiopia, Swaziland and Zambia have recently taken part in a series of workshops where they produced communications products in the form of articles and short films. Overseen by the Centre for Learning on Sustainable Agriculture (ILEIA), the purpose of the workshops was to distill important lessons from IFAD’s work with poor rural farmers in the East and Southern Africa region.

The Swaziland team  listed what was, in their opinion, the takeaway messages of the workshops:

• Family farmers should take the lead in development initiatives on their land
• Traditional authorities should always be involved
• Family farmers learn more easily from each other than from outsiders
• Women are crucial in the sustainability of any initiative
• Regardless of the benefits, communities will always have their own reasons for participating in a project, or for not doing so
• Unity in a community is paramount to any success
• It is possible to learn much more from failure than success

During the workshops participants  evaluated their own work, highlighting lessons for themselves and others to benefit from. The workshops focused on the  basic steps of the documentation process, which is critical for recording lessons gleaned from a project. These steps include deciding who needs to participate in the workshops, making resources available, setting the boundaries of the experience (what, when, where) and describing the project activities, achievements and unexpected outcomes.
Finally they proceeded with the most difficult part – the analysis. This was a critical review of their experiences, looking at the practices employed and whether or not the objectives were met. Most importantly it looked at why, or why not objectives had certain outcomes. More often than not, institutions  focus  on what has been achieved, without analysing the factors that helped or impeded the process. There is a tendency to miss important lessons, especially what can be learnt about crucial contributing factors. As mentioned in the Swaziland outcomes, sometimes failure can teach us more than success.

The team working out of Ethiopia created a booklet entitled “Learning for rural change: 14 stories from Ethiopia”. They described it as 'a kaleidoscopic view of a variety of agricultural initiatives taking place in Ethiopia’ and covers the four main themes of: Pastoralist Communities, Markets, Irrigation and Organisation and Knowledge Sharing.

The Zambia team created a similar booklet to the Ethiopia team, consisting of eleven articles covering three focal areas:  Spreading Practices, Organising Farmers and Partnership and Participation.

To see the original story on the ILEIA site please click here

For the Ethiopia articles please click here

For the Swaziland articles please click here

And finally for the articles from Zambia please click here