Demand-driven Implementation Support Missions - where farmers are eager to get answers to their questions

Farmers listening to agronomic advice from the Oil Palm Expert on an IFAD supervision mission
We are currently on a supervision mission for the Vegetable Oil Development Project (VODP2) in Uganda. We have two teams - one looking at the oilseeds component in Eastern and Northern Uganda, and another looking at oil palm growing in Kalangala District.
One of the mission team members is an oil palm expert. He is called Billy Ghansah and the farmers always look forward to the missions just so they can get all their palm related questions with experiences from West Africa. The expert works with the extension workers in their support to the farmers. The oil palm farmers have with time come to understand that the advice they get from the oil palm expert and the Kalangala Oil Palm Growers' Trust (KOPGT) field extension staff is very important in making their gardens more productive and increasing yield.
Billy (Oil Palm Expert) explains to the farmers and field extension workers that 
sooty mould fungus is spread by mealy bugs, and how to prevent it.

A farmers' leader gives a vote of thanks to the team for sharing with them
information to help them earn more from oil palm
When the farmers had just started planting the palms in 2006, some of them did not bother much about applying fertilizers. One of the key challenges for KOPGT was that, in spite of all the extension messages, some farmers would sell off their fertilizers on the black market for a quick buck. The first farmers started harvesting in 2010 and are earning very attractive incomes. On average, a farmer earns about USD100 per acre per month, and the gardens are 5 acres on average.

"Why are the fronds of my palm tree drying up?"
This female farmer, Imelda Nalubowa (center)
 wont let the expert go before getting a solution!
Fast  Forward. September 2013: farmers are now demanding to not only have the required fertilizer but to have it delivered in time so that their palm trees are healthy and more productive. These farmers have now realized how important it is to follow agronomic practices to ensure high quality fruit and to maximize profits from their fresh fruit bunches sales.

In the field visit to Kagulube Block on Wednesday 25 September, each farmer wanted the team to go to their gardens so that the oil palm expert could look at the trees they thought were not doing well for one reason or another. There was a farmers meeting and each farmer had a question. Some wanted to know why the leaves of their palms were yellow and what they could do about it? A female farmer was worried that there were insects eating up the shoots of her palms. Luckily, there was an entomologist from the National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO), which has signed an MoU with VODP, to provide support to farmers. He was able to respond to her question and give her useful advice.

What do we learn from all this?
  • If you are providing very useful information to farmers, they will be eager to receive and apply it. Useful information for farmers in this case is information which enables them to earn better incomes from their agricultural enterprises.
  • Missions are a great opportunity to interact with beneficiaries and see things from their perspective, and then work with them towards obtaining meaningful answers to their questions and concerns. Missions are not 'business as usual' because there is constant change and team members have to adapt.
  • Sharing useful information is not a once-off event. Information should be shared consistently until the message is clearly understood by all and is implemented. Imagine someone had given up telling the oil palm farmers that they needed fertilizer? Consistency has paid off. Now the farmers are where they need to be - a place where they don't wait for you to bring the information to them, but they are eager to learn, and will go out of their way to ask and find answers.

For IFAD, missions offer a great value proposition for projects especially when the teams work towards meeting expressed needs.

Impact: A female farmer has built this permanent house from her sales
of oil palm fresh fruit bunches.

In a newly planted garden, the farmer is taught to not 'choke' the seedling.
This farmer also asked how much fertilizer of each required type
he needs to put on his 1 acre garden.